The myths around AI have been nothing if not sticky. Fifty years after Hal 9000 made moviegoers very afraid, consumers continue to believe both that robots will replace humans — and also that AI is a thing of the future.
The reality? Neither is true.
But these myths and certain contradictory perceptions around AI hold firm in the minds of consumers, our recent study found. According to the 2019 Zendesk Customer Experience Trends, a study based on our data index of 45,000 companies using Zendesk: Across countries, nearly two-thirds of customers either don’t think they’ve interacted with a customer support bot in the past six months or don’t know. In reality, AI is very much of the here and now. With Zendesk, our customers have already solved more than one million tickets using AI tools, saving 225,000 agent hours and giving 2,800 years back to the customer.
“AI does the background work, in some cases work a human could not do.”
About half tend to agree on some core benefits of AI: It’s helpful for simple issues and for allowing support teams to provide around-the-clock service. That said, nearly three-quarters of customers say they prefer to interact with a human agent. Baby boomers are less likely to view AI as something that is helpful for simple or complex issues, and generally prefer human agents. Younger generations, Gen Z and millennials, are generally more optimistic about the benefits of AI in customer service. These same respondents, however, are also more likely to agree that AI makes support more confusing.
The lack of awareness around AI likely has to do with its subtlety. “When we say AI is here, it’s not in the foreground, in your face,” says Richard Noack, product analyst, Benchmark, at Zendesk. Calling a ride and having something translated, he says, usually involves AI, but it’s not visible to the user. “It’s in the background. AI does the background work, and in some cases work that a human could not do.”
There are opportunities here for companies to improve their service to customers and also to improve the working experiences of their agents, says Noack. “No way could a human immediately search a ticket in 10 seconds and find what matters,” he says. AI can help agents with automated actions, predictive analytics, chatbots, and virtual assistants. AI use also corresponds to a higher-performing support team. “When you delegate the repeat requests to AI,” says Noack, “the human agent can work on things that are much more engaging.”
Most agents say their support teams aren’t yet using AI to handle customer requests. But support teams that have adopted bots and other AI features are already benefiting: High-performing support teams using Zendesk are twice as likely to leverage AI. Answer Bot, for example, help teams deflect tickets, working alongside your agents by using machine learning to help answer incoming questions. With content from your knowledge base, Answer Bot suggests articles that could help resolve an issue. Our study found that teams using Zendesk’s AI features see a clear overall efficiency boost—they resolve tickets 21% faster and see a Self-Service Ratio that is two times higher, while handling about six times the volume of requests compared to their peers.
Oh, and once and for all: The robots are not taking over. At least not anytime soon. Yes, Gartner estimates that by 2020 a quarter of customer service interactions will involve some form of AI technology. But bots are “not magical machines that can do everything,” says Noack. Whether it’s smoothing over ruffled feathers or solving deeper, more specialized problems, “there will always be things only humans can do.”