Customer Service Gets an AI Jolt

Consumer care centers that rely on AI assistants are doing better . . . but there’s always room for improvement.

A new study from Stanford University’s Digital Economic Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reveals that artificial intelligence has upgraded customer support across the board.

The study, “Generative AI at Work,” tracked the long-term rollout of a generative AI-based conversational assistant deploying data from 5,179 customer support agents from Fortune 500 companies.

The study found that access to the tool increases customer service department productivity, as measured by issues resolved per hour, by 14% on average. That figure includes a 34% improvement for “novice and low-skilled “workers but “with minimal impact on experienced and highly skilled workers.”

Study authors Erik Brynjolfsson, Danielle Li, and Lindsey R. Raymond also say that Gen AI models improve the best practices of seasoned customer service professionals and help newer workers grasp their new department roles.

“In addition, we find that AI assistance improves customer sentiment, increases employee retention, and may lead to worker learning,” the study said. “Our results suggest that access to generative AI can increase productivity, with large heterogeneity in effects across workers.”

Generative AI also helped customer agents better handle individual chats, which hiked the number of agent/customer chats on a per-hour basis and boosted the number of suitably resolved chats.

Fighting “Delicate Balances” Out of Whack

In a departure from the Stanford study, a separate report from Binghamton University says the customer service agent/consumer relationship is a “delicate balancing act” that may throw that already often contentious relationship out of whack if AI assistant tools aren’t used wisely.

“AI is a valuable asset, so long as it’s used properly, though these organizations shouldn’t rely on it exclusively to guide their strategies,” the study noted.

The three-year study monitored five customer contact centers at two global banks, one national bank, an Asian-based telecommunication Fortune 500 firm, and a global infrastructure vendor in telecommunications hardware. In doing so, it seems those companies have a long road ahead before AI deployments prosper.

“While many customer service organizations have spent recent years investing in AI, assuming that not doing so could lead to customer dissatisfaction, the researchers found these organizations haven’t used AI to its full potential,” the report stated. “They have primarily used it for self-service applications.”

The AI-assisted customer service tasks analysts studied included the following factors . . .

• AI systems are used to automatically open applications, send emails, and transfer information from one system to another.
• Approving or disapproving loan applications.
• Provide personalized service based on customer’s data and contact history.

Make Customer Service Staff a Priority

In their conclusion, study analysts concluded that while it’s beneficial for customer service companies to harness AI systems to guide their business strategies, “they should not do so at the expense of supporting quality professional development and ongoing learning opportunities for their staff.”

To prosper, associate professor and study lead Sumantra Sarker said customer service departments need to examine every customer touchpoint. They also need to identify opportunities to enhance the customer experience while boosting operational efficiency.

“Any business is a balancing game because what you decide to do at the start of the year based on a forecast has to be revised repeatedly,” Sarkar added. “Since there’s that added tension within customer service organizations of whether they want to be more efficient or explore new areas, they must work even harder to strike that balance.”

“Using AI in the right way effectively helps them accomplish that,” Sakar added.

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