Why Machine Learning Can Improve Customer Service


(Image: panuwat phimpha/Shutterstock)

(Image: panuwat phimpha/Shutterstock)

AI is changing our everyday interactions. What once required a human rep can now be handled by a virtual assistant whose programming allows customer problems to be solved more quickly.

A recent Venturebeat article declared, "AI chatbots are the next big shift in customer service." Those of us of a certain generation expect to wait on a line or on the phone for a person to take care of our customer service issues. But the generation that favors texts to calls has come to have different expectations.

A survey of 1,500 millennials in North America found that 65% preferred not to have to engage a human in person or on the phone. That's actually good news for businesses that embrace the technology because they can improve customer satisfaction at lower costs by implementing chatbots and virtual assistants powered by AI.

One of the companies that enables businesses to harness the power of AI in that way is Rul.ai. Yi Zhang, co-founder and CTO of Rul.ai also teaches data mining. She spoke with All Analytics about data mining works for virtual agents to allow for personalized responses.

Just like Amazon and Netflix learn more about customers through their use of the sites and then can offer more on targeted recommendations, interactions with virtual assistants enable companies to "know more about you and provide more" help in finding what you seek, Zhang explains. "We use AI technologies in natural language processing, deep learning to build the next generation of virtual assistants."

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Should organizations reveal that customer queries are being handled by chatbots? Zhang said that it is better for businesses to do so. She concedes that there are some observable differences between "human to human conversations and human to machine conversations." She also explained "Studies show that it would cut back on social chat like 'how are you?'" While this is considered part of polite human interaction, it becomes irrelevant in the context of explaining the problem to a virtual assistant.

An efficient solution to the problem is what virtual assistant are all about. That's the main appeal for the customer, that they can get right to it "rather than waiting 30 minutes" for a human rep to come on. In cases in which the virtual assistant can't solve the problem, the "customer service experience manager can see what's going on and intervene" as necessary, providing guidance for "the chatbot to serve the customer better."

What makes the chatbot effective is that even before it gains the knowledge from its own interactions with customers, it incorporates "a large amount of historical data," as well as the domain-specific knowledge of whoever put in the specifications for it. Zhang points out that "this is very different from the government platforms you have seen in which the engineers write code to build the bot." Theirs is a "self-service solution in which people who have the domain knowledge own and control the bot."

She explained that while "engineers don't like to change the wording of the bot or add" in additional uses cases, customer service managers have no such hesitation and really know what they are doing. "That's why we think they should be in control."

That fits with her view of the democratization of AI and the empowerment of "nonengineers to utilize AI without writing any code." Zhang envisions a future in which AI will be adapted not just to customer service for online sellers but for a range of organizations. "I think AI will be everywhere" she says.

She offered several possibilities for AI enabled automation in the future. One is universities that can use it to automate profile reads for student applications. Another is putting virtual assistants in government offices like the DMV to cut down on waiting time by allowing some tasks to be completed without a human representative.

In Zhang's view, government employees often operate like customer service representatives. Accordingly, the same kind of efficiencies that are realized by utilizing chatbots in the retail space can apply to the government sector.

It's just a matter of thinking through what task needs to be accomplished. As she puts it "Think about the application you want to work out," and then the "machine learning can be used for just about any aspect of the customer experience."

Ariella Brown,

Ariella Brown is a social media consultant, editor, and freelance writer who frequently writes about the application of technology to business. She holds a PhD in English from the City University of New York. Her Twitter handle is @AriellaBrown.

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Re: Human touch
  • 5/31/2017 9:33:52 AM
NO RATINGS

I find in some cases that opinions can vary depending on how the conversation is being held.  Some people are very passive face to face but more open via written communication where they feel they can express themselves better.  Other people you don't really know how they feel until they are face to face with you unloading their thoughts.  Communication styles are vary individualized so I don't see SMS or chat bots destroying our communication skills especially if we see them as a tool for gathering information not as a form of relationship building in a human sense. 

Re: Human touch
  • 5/30/2017 2:15:02 PM
NO RATINGS

Achieving balance is key in all circumstances. The problem that I see is that we have a tendency to approach every choice as an either/or scenario, not taking into account that the circumstances dictate when one is best over the other. The concern of young people establishing texting as the preferable mode of communication is that they have not developed conversational skills and habits yet.

Re: Human touch
  • 5/30/2017 1:55:11 PM
NO RATINGS

I think everything has its time and place. I am certainly not anti-texting i do it myself, however, when it hurts someone's overall social skills I don; 't think that we should overlook the impact. There is something to be said for being able to speak to a group of people or make a personal connection. For so many younger individuals we see the complete exit from personal conversations and interaction.

Re: Human touch
  • 5/30/2017 1:44:17 PM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT, you make a good point on the advantage of SMS specifically while multi-tasking. You have time to refocus your thoughts and arrange your words clearly without the pressure of a live human staring at you. Although we connect better face to face but we don't necessarily convey ideas better. I've gotten responses live that I'd wished the person had written it down first, they would have had a chance to realize that it was incoherent. With that being said, on a conversational level there's​ nothing that approaches face to face.

Re: Human touch
  • 5/30/2017 8:23:24 AM
NO RATINGS

I don't know if I'd call it a security blanket but SMS does seem to have become a crutch.  I don't know that they are fearful but I do see instant messaging being used to throttle communications or split their attention. Silence in a face to face conversation can be very uncomfortable but if you can't think of how to answer a question quickly over text there is less pressure to reply before fully forming your thoughts.  I think it may be affecting verbal skills but I think there are many more factors playing into our less verbal society. 

Re: Human touch
  • 5/28/2017 5:41:23 PM
NO RATINGS

I've seen it too on university campuses. I don't know if these students are consumed by the phones or using them a security blankets out in the world. They tend to avoid phone calls and in-person meetings, preferring non-verbal communication instead.

Re: More Chatbots
  • 5/28/2017 5:28:32 PM
NO RATINGS

For consumers it's a difficult time trying to combat yearly increases in common services; phone, mortage payment, taxes, insurance. Consumer advocates say home and auto insurers routinely increase premiums under the premise that most customers are not going to complain. According the advice is to always shop from competitive insurance companies every few years with a the result of most always finding a lower price.

Re: Human touch
  • 5/27/2017 9:29:12 PM
NO RATINGS

@impactnow That's generally the way I see it, too, though they will claim they find different ways to connect and that it can be just as meaningful to them as the ways we're used to are to us. And of course, those of us who grew up in the dark ages before every teen had a smartphone just can't understand. 

Re: Human touch
  • 5/26/2017 11:33:45 PM
NO RATINGS

Ariella I have noticed the trend and quite honestly it's scary. I have met many those groups who are completely unable to socially exchange without a phone in their hand. The art of conversation is lost and so is the art of connection.

Re: Human touch
  • 5/25/2017 5:31:09 PM
NO RATINGS

@impactnow If you are brought into regular contact with teens and twentysomethings, you'd find this consistent with your observation of their general preferences. 

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