Over the past 150 years, automation and mechanisation has been the catalyst for rapid and massive shifts to the world’s labour market and economic system.
First, steam power transformed the process of agriculture, transport and simple manufacturing tasks like milling and weaving. Within fifty years or so, electricity was revolutionising more complex manufacturing, ushering in the age of mass production.
In the second half of the 20th century, electronics, information technology and simple robotics began to appear, automating production lines to such an extent that just a handful of supervisors could oversee as much work as was previously being fulfilled by hundreds. The middle classes and the service economy grew as, for the first time, mental labour became more valuable than physical labour.
Now are at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution which may be equally as transformative in that it heralds a fundamental shift in human development.
So how is this Fourth Industrial Revolution different?
From a technical standpoint, Industry 4.0 merges digital, physical, and biological systems in ways that promise enormous potential.
Some of the promised potential is already a reality and we are witnessing some wonderful examples of this fusion of digital, physical and biological systems. The CRISPR genome editing is one prominent example; so too, the mechanical exoskeletons engineered to help victims of spinal injury walk and control their limbs and hands.
When you think about what else may be possible with Industry 4.0 – Artificial Intelligence, which is fast becoming capable of replicating human-level thought, is one of the great hopes of this new revolution. Indeed, many organisations are looking to AI to solve the challenges that come with the rapid growth in data and global expansion.
Artificial Intelligence technology is now at a stage where the lines between what is real and artificial are indisputably blurring. As machines get better at natural language processing and semantics, they become more adept at mimicking human speech patterns.
But it poses the underlying question: Is human interaction on its way out?
AI will enable communications professionals to collect crucial insights and act on them more efficiently. However, it is up to companies to find the right balance between humans and machines. Technology will only ‘take over’ if those at boardroom level allow it.
It’s inevitable that AI has and will replace some jobs, but will it completely replace customer-facing jobs such as sales teams and customer service agents? A recent research paper by Natterbox reported many SMEs are hesitant to adopt AI for customer interaction because the impression that automation makes communication too impersonal.
The hype for AI may be short-lived; the report found few believe AI would bring the sweeping changes to the way we do business as many predict. Just because something exists, it will not necessarily be adopted by everyone. Consider the rise of eCommerce – it has had an undoubted impact on our high streets, but it has not replaced bricks-and-mortar stores entirely, and in many cases has reframed ‘shopping local’ as a more personalised experience.
Considering, over 60 per cent of business is still being conducted via the phone, the voice channel is critical to any enterprise and will continue to be just as crucial with the advent of AI. It holds much more value than any other means of communication because it also conveys context, sentiment, intent, emotion and actions, providing real intelligence and driving valuable business outcomes.
Perhaps one of the exciting promises of AI is its potential to enable specialists to build better relationships with their clients, by delivering intelligent customer data in real-time to people making and taking calls.
AI allows us to work with the new technologies and innovations, to augment or enhance the customer conversation, rather than replace real human interaction and cut costs.
From automatically optimising digital marketing campaigns, to managing administrative tasks, prioritising leads and answering FAQs for existing clients – almost every touchpoint for sales, marketing and customer service professionals involves some element or process that could be made more efficient through automation.
Forward-thinking brands are experimenting with how they can rapidly supply insights from customer data to a contact centre agent, marrying the intuitive, empathetic conversational skills of a customer service professional to the richer context provided by AI.
The more companies use this data, linked with existing voice capabilities, to understand their customers and to predict behaviours and preferences, the more the overall customer experience will grow and improve.
Personalisation is the simplest way to harness AI and improve the customer experience. The data you have about your customer could easily shape their call journey in ways that will increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
The most successful businesses over the coming decade will find ways of implementing Artificial Intelligence that helps to amplify human resources, to work directly with customers – enabling people to bring their social and emotional capabilities to the fore.
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Charles Heunemann is Managing Director, VP Asia Pacific of Natterbox Limited Australia.