Subscribers feel service providers are using chatbots and artificial intelligence to cut jobs: Not guilty, say SPs
Consumers like chatbots. In fact, many prefer them to call centre agents. But there’s a public perception that service providers (SPs) are simply using the technology to cut one of their greatest costs, staff headcount – and consumers are not happy about it.
As Jeremy Cowan reports though, service providers’ motives may be altogether better. According to a new survey by Forrester for business support systems (BSS) vendor, Amdocs, SPs are investing in artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled chatbots to increase subscriber satisfaction.
Yet almost seven in 10 (67%) of the 7,000 consumers surveyed globally ascribed a cost-cutting motive to CSPs’ use of the technology, and they were not happy at the thought. A separate SP survey shows that only 16% of decision-makers want to replace human jobs.
The consumer survey was evenly split between male and female respondents and they were aged 17-80. To ensure the experience was reasonable fresh in their minds, the Amdocs-sponsored survey only questioned consumers who have interacted with a virtual agent in the last 12 months.
The second survey was confined to Tier 1 service providers; more than 60% of respondents were SVP, VP or C-level decision-makers and 10% were chief executive officers (CEOs) of companies investing in AI. Communications, media and digital service providers were all represented in the survey. All the SPs were Tier One companies with at least 20m people in IT and investing in digital transformation. Asia-Pacific, North America, the Caribbean & Latin America, and EMEA (Europe, the Middle East & Africa) were all represented in the replies.
As many organisations are starting to embrace AI in the contact centre, Amdocs chose to focus on virtual agents in AI. Many SPs are focusing on customer satisfaction, so there’s a misperception that needs to be tackled, according to Amdocs.
Service providers were quizzed by Forrester in another survey, and here it became clear that the intention is, in fact, to enhance services in a way that customers should appreciate. As Dafna Yanay, product marketing manager for digital at Amdocs, told VanillaPlus, not only do “service providers say they are mostly doing it to increase satisfaction, but they will be adding new jobs with AI. Consumers like to use chatbots and we see them (at service providers) more and more, with fewer and fewer apps. Many subscribers choose to use chatbots over an agent in a call centre because of the (communications) channel they choose to connect with, or the hours when they’re doing it.”
As a result, she says, many service providers now have AI teams of more than 25 people and some have over 50. “Service providers are investing in virtual agents,” says Yanay.
No good with complexity
There are limitations to the AI-enabled chatbot experience, though. Chatbots can’t handle complex requests. “They can clarify account details and respond to simple requests in voice or text,” says Yanay, “but they don’t bring value. If the consumer’s question isn’t answered by the chatbot they get moved to a human agent and are very frustrated at having to repeat everything.
“In addition, there is no personalisation by chatbots today. They don’t know who the consumer is,” she says. “When we asked service providers for their AI investment priorities personalisation was at the back of the list. They focused first on information security, privacy and speed of response.”
Investments, but in the wrong places
Even if service providers’ budgets and jobs in artificial intelligence are rising, they are not sure if they are making AI investments in the right places. “They’re investing a lot,” says Yanay, “but not always in the right place.”
The research also showed a lack of information until now on what consumers want from chatbots. Most want them to be female, with an image of a real woman. Most chatbots, however, have been created with an avatar face — although the service providers do generally make them female. They get that much right.
It transpires that consumers want to use bots before becoming a customer, for checking service details and prices. Hitherto, the service provider perception was that bots are best as a tool for care – in other words for existing customers. When Amdocs asked SPs who defines the chatbot strategy they were surprised to find that it’s not generally Marketing or Sales. It’s more likely to be the IT and Customer Service departments.
For the purposes of these surveys, Forrester defined chatbots and virtual agents as the same thing. As Yanay concludes, “It’s OK, it’s an AI-based engine replacing a human agent.”
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