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When AI Customer Service Goes Horribly Wrong, Humans to the Rescue

Many of us live in a fast-paced, hyper-caffeinated digitally driven culture of intermittent constant interruptions, unreasonable demands, and a need for everything yesterday.


In some of our encounters we cannot tell if we are communicating with a bot, some voiceless artificial intelligence, or a voice recognition software like when we order something online. Have you ordered with a robot in a fast-food drive-thru yet? Surely you’ve been on a strangely human call being asked to press 1 for customer service or press 2 to hear the menu again. And what about those creepy online chat bots when you’re ordering a pair of hiking boots and you want to know if they run large.


One of the biggest problems with AI-powered customer service is that it can be impersonal and frustrating. When customers interact with a chatbot or other AI-powered system, they often feel like they are talking to a machine, not a human being. This can lead to feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction, which can damage customer loyalty.


Okay, we’ve all been there, and stand by for more.


In preparation for an upcoming international trip, I needed to upgrade a portable charger for my iPhone and a myriad of other devices that are part of the modern armamentarium. After I carefully analyzed the recommendations and the specs in an online shopping site, I found the magical device to continue in my role as a Master of the Universe. I meticulously went through the user name and password acrobatics, entered my credit card, and all the other stuff and hit “order.”


So far so good. But wait.


About a week later a big brown truck delivered the gadget in a bubble-wrapped package, which I eagerly carried into the house as if I had received a new puppy. I lovingly unzipped the package and to my dismay found the black rectangle that I had anticipated was a white “hockey puck.”


This was not the start of a good day. Moreover, I was looking for three USB ports on the device, and I only found one. Strike #2. The digital online warehouse obviously sent the wrong item.


I had a choice. Risk a near-death experience on the local expressway to go to a retail outlet and go to war with an underpaid and underappreciated store associate. This was not a hill that I would choose to die on.


Or go online and attempt to exchange the wrong item for what I originally ordered.


Another problem with AI-powered customer service is that it can be inaccurate. AI systems are still under development, and they often make mistakes. This can lead to customers receiving incorrect information or being unable to resolve their issues.


Therefore, I got online for a label to mail back the product. But not so fast. An MIT graduate would’ve fumbled trying to do this. First, download some app from some obscure website. Enter user name and password, which directs the “evil person returning an item” (me) to another app for a user name and password. Finally, I received a QR code, which I carefully printed out as well as embedded into my photographs. Off then I went a warehouse about the size of Argentina.


I rang a bell and a human being mercifully appeared. She looked like your best aunt or your favorite grandmother. She looked up the box and said, “Big boy, this does not look good. Did not you read the instructions?”


Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionize customer service. By automating repetitive tasks and providing real-time insights, AI can help customer service teams resolve issues faster and more efficiently. However, there is a growing concern that AI is actually making customer service worse.


I did not have the existential energy to ask for a pardon so I confessed that, no, I had not apparently read the instructions.


She then uttered the unfathomable words, “Well, honey, we just had an upgrade and I do not know if I can scan the QR code from the copy.”


So what can companies do to improve customer service in the age of AI? Use AI to augment, not replace, human customer service agents. AI can be used to automate repetitive tasks, such as answering frequently asked questions. This frees up human agents to focus on more complex issues.


My knees buckled, my heart sank, and I held onto the counter fearful that I would fall to the ground.


But then my Guardian Angel offered a ray of hope. “I think we can do a work-around.”


This kind soul went that extra mile and made that extra effort to sort out what was a real frustrating issue. I was at fault. I had not read the directions, and she came to my rescue. We exchanged a fist bump, and had there not been a counter between us, we certainly would’ve exchanged an appropriate hug.


We can learn from this chance encounter with a human who cares.


  • Customer service no longer exists. All that talk about customer experience (known as CX) and touchpoints and associates walking the walk in the customers’ shoes? Gone.

  • We live in an isolated digital world of electronics and robots, but we crave and hunger for human contact.

  • If you are dealing with customers on the phone, in person, via internet chat, or over the counter, pause and ask yourself, “How can I make the voyage of this suffering pilgrim (your customer) a little less perilous?”

  • If you are the customer, think twice before you jump down the throat of a CX associate taking your order, returning your item, checking you out at a cash register (yes, some stores still do have associates scanning at checkouts) and something goes wonky: The price won’t scan. The price is incorrect (as you remember it). The little old lady in front of you is writing a check that is taking an excruciatingly long time (for those who don’t know what a check is, Google it). Smile, relax. Say thank you.

  • No person is an island. We are each connected, and simple gestures of concern and thoughtfulness can make all the difference in a world that is spinning out of control.

[Italicized paragraphs were written by AI (Google’s Bard).]



Image from Wix Media.

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