Decades ago artificial intelligence (AI) was seen as a scary prospect. Just look at HAL, the super computer with a mind of its own in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as a notorious example. However, the machines aren’t here to take over. They’re here to help us and improve our lives, including in the field of customer service.

Pre-emption versus reaction

In the past the customer service process worked like this: a customer encountered an issue and had to escalate it to a customer service representative. The representative would need to search for the customer’s account number and research their account history to better understand the nature of the query. Often, there’d need to be a bit of back-and-forth for the representative to gather the necessary context and correct information. At times, it’d be a frustrating process for both the customer and representative.

Automation allows for a pre-emptive level of responsiveness that wasn’t possible before, as it helps you understand your customer and their needs through a concentrated lens. Even as a customer browses your website and app, there are intelligent distress indicators that alert you if they experience an issue. This enables a more proactive and pre-emptive approach rather than a reactionary one when an issue arises.

Always on

Our society has never been as fast-paced as it currently is. Your customers don’t want to wait for service on weekdays between 08:00 and 05:00 – they want it when they need it. This means you need to adopt a 24/7 approach, where you’re available all the time.

Automation delivers always-on customer service, which isn’t constrained by times zones or normal working hours. Ultimately, this has a huge influence on overall customer satisfaction and builds brand affinity and trust. If your customers know they can rely on you 24 hours a day, they’re less likely to look elsewhere for assistance.

AI needs to learn once only

When expanding a customer service team, training the new members is essential. However, you’ll need to give them some time to understand your processes and the nature of your customer base. At the same time you need to ensure this doesn’t impact the delivery of customer service – which isn’t always as simple as it sounds.

Thanks to machine learning, your automated processes need to be inputted once only. Whether it’s a simple clear-error command for your satellite television’s set-top box or the checking of a statement, these once-manual-only processes can now be automated, allowing for consistency, reliability and timeous delivery.

The culture of self-service

We’re living in the age of messaging apps. Nowadays, no one likes to pick up the phone to call others, and this extends to customer service, too. In fact, according to a recent study, 72% of millennials believe a phone call is not the best way to resolve a service issue.

The new generation of consumer is extremely self-reliant and self-sufficient, so there’s a need to empower them with automated customer service technologies that provide human-free and digital-only interactions. They have no desire to interact with archaic processes and systems, so you either have to adapt to their demands or lose them to other organisations that do.

The role of customer service representatives in the future

Naturally, a more automated world leads to a fear of job losses and redundancy. That isn’t the case, though, because no machine possesses the power of human reasoning. A machine is always better at doing repetitive and monotonous work, but a human mind can reason and identify where the processes could be improved.

There’s an opportunity to upskill customer service representatives to look at the bigger picture and the future of customer service. Freeing up your customer service team from tier-1 support requests allows them to focus on more complex tasks. Automation is merely a tool, because their critical thinking and insights will play the pivotal role in customer service strategies. At the end of the day, no one knows a human better than another human.

According to IBM, around 85% of all customer interactions are handled without a human agent. It’s unsurprising when you consider that a pioneering brand like Uber is predominantly built on AI, using it to interact and engage with customers. If anything, it shows that it’s no longer a question of whether customer service will be fully automated, but when.

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