Half of consumers happy to chat with customer service robots on the phone

Despite the frustration many of us have experienced when calling up a company’s customer service line only to be greeted by an automated voice giving you a million confusing options, it seems that consumers’ opinions about AI assistants are starting to change.

As Google Duplex – the company’s AI system designed for “accomplishing real-world tasks over the phone” – inches closer to becoming a reality, new research by Aspect Software has revealed that over half of consumers (52%) would be comfortable communicating with a customer service robot that closely mimics human behaviour over the phone.

While this indicates a growing acceptance of customer service technology that is increasingly human-like, Aspect Software warns that there also remains a number of concerns about the impact this will have on the role of human agents.

The survey, which polled 2,000 consumers from across the UK, found that 27% of those polled would be completely comfortable dealing with a Google Duplex-style robotic customer service agent, rising to 38% for those aged 16-24.

However, more than four in ten (43%) also said that they would not be comfortable with such technology, with 21% saying they would prefer a different method of communication, and 22% saying that they find human-mimicking technology like this unsettling.

For Stephen Ball, Senior VP Europe & Africa at Aspect, these findings underline the importance of being balanced when it comes to adopting new customer service channels and being wise to the widely varying preferences of consumers.

“There is clearly potential for technologies like Google Duplex to make their mark in the world of customer service, especially amongst the tech-native younger generation of shoppers,” said Ball.

“However, a significant amount of scepticism about such technology remains, especially amongst older consumers, so it is crucial that organisations temper this desire to increase the use of robots and automation with the need to cater to the preferences of their entire customer base.”

When asked about what they would consider an acceptable use of technology in an automated customer service experience, 30% said that they would like to see a combination of technological and human input, with tech used to assist human agents in carrying out their jobs more effectively. In addition, 38% said that they would like all customer service to be carried out by humans, with this figure rising to 44% when considering those aged 55 and over alone.

Ball added: “These figures show that the human touch is far from dead as far as customer service is concerned, despite the presence of technology and its power to improve the experience for many people. Automation and self-service can go a long way towards making an organisation’s customer service more efficient and giving customers more choice when it comes to interacting with a business, but just as important is being able to reassure consumers that they will have the option to speak to a human agent if they need it.”

He concluded: “Building a winning customer experience is about achieving balance: it’s short-sighted to pigeon-hole the majority of your customers into one particular category, so individual needs should always be taken into account. Technologies like Google Duplex have a great deal of potential, but only if they aren’t implemented at the expense of choice of communication channel for the consumer. Differentiating from a customer service perspective is about understanding the context behind any customer interaction, and adopting an omni-channel approach to suit everyone.” 

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