A new Gartner study predicts that a fifth of all customer contacts that service teams handle will come from machine customers before 2026.
Machine customers perform service activities on behalf of human customers.
Smart devices such as Google Duplex already allow customers to call businesses to schedule appointments, make reservations, and even assist with lost passwords through automated voice.
For now, such use cases remain limited. Yet, the technology is advancing quickly, with a voice that uses pauses and filler words to sound remarkably human.
Moreover, the great gains in AI innovation – as the recent ChatGPT and Bard hysteria underlines – will likely significantly push forward the capabilities of such applications.
As such, businesses that prepare for the uptick in machine customers may set themselves apart, according to Gartner’s “Predicts 2023: Customer Service and Support Strategy and Leadership.”
Yet, Uma Challa, Sr. Director Analyst at Gartner, also senses an opportunity for companies that encourage customers to use such smart devices to automate service requests. She stated:
Organizations that embrace them will be able to differentiate their value and close the gap by meeting this new standard for effortless service.
Such a new standard may come sooner than many expect, with Gartner anticipating that smart devices will raise 100 million customer service requests before 2024.
Citing these figures, Garter suggests “smart organizations” may start to invest in conversational AI platforms that enable bot-to-bot communications.
Moreover, Challa issues a warning for those that don’t, adding:
Organizations without a machine customer strategy in place won’t have a good way of distinguishing between human and machine customers. They may see their non-chatbot channel performance get worse without understanding why.
Indeed, it is likely that virtual agents will become the best way of dealing with machine customers – primarily for their ability to serve automated queries at scale.
Agents Will Also Turn to Machines for Self-Automation
Some contact centers have turned to agent-assist tools to automate parts of the service rep role. These retrieve information, auto-fill forms, and sometimes auto-suggest agent responses.
Yet, reps often attempt to automate parts of their work using external tools – with Gartner anticipating that 30 percent of agents will do so by 2026.
For instance, they may use ChatGPT to craft customer responses or utilize unauthorized third-party call recorders to transcribe customer calls.
These practices may risk data privacy and present a real concern, with agents having easy access to self-automation tools.
Wary of this trend, Gartner predicts a rise in employee automation solutions in contact center marketplaces – especially low-/no-code solutions that allow agents to self-automate tasks safely.
Emily Potosky, Research & Advisory Director at Gartner, advocates for the adoption of these tools.
“Customer service and support organizations that not only allow but authorize self-automation will become more competitive than those that don’t, as reps will notice and correct inefficiencies that leaders are unaware of,” said Potosky.
These organizations may also become more attractive employers because potential job candidates are likely to appreciate the organization’s flexibility and openness to innovation.
Finally, Gartner’s study suggests that collaboration vendors may consider increasing their investment in developing advanced swarming features that allow agents to self-automate together.
Preparing for Machine Customers and Self-Automation
The increasing accessibility of automated assistants enables customers and employees to use technology in surprising – yet sometimes unauthorized – new ways.
Gartner believes this shift will significantly impact the contact center conversations of tomorrow.
To prepare for this future, the market analyst recommends that service leaders should
- “Create a framework for due diligence” – This will likely involve using task and conversation mining to spot self-automation opportunities.
- “Invest in a scalable chatbot platform”– Doing so may pave the way for scalable bot-to-bot interactions across several simplistic customer queries.
- “Harness employees’ willingness to augment their own work processes” – This allows the contact center to develop more engaging, compliant ways of working.
- “Measure channel performance” – Consider the performance of bot-to-bot conversations versus non-automated interactions using the same CX metrics to understand the impact of machine customers.
For more research from the market analyst into the future of conversational AI, read our article: Gartner: Bots Will Cut Contact Center Agent Labor Costs By $80BN In 2026