Customers Reject AI for Customer Service, Still Crave a Human Touch

Despite pressure for CX leaders to adopt more GenAI solutions, customers are turning their back on the tech.

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Published: July 9, 2024

Rhys Fisher Fisher

A recent study has revealed that the majority of customers do not want companies to use AI in their customer service offerings.

Conducted by Gartner, the findings are based on a survey of almost 6,000 customers across four continents. The results outline a clear disconnect between companies and customers regarding the use of AI.

The advancement of generative AI (GenAI) in recent times has led to internal expectations for customer service and experience leaders to deploy the technology, with Gartner reporting that 60 percent of leaders are “under pressure from other leaders in their enterprise to adopt GenAI.”

Yet, despite companies focusing heavily on leveraging AI to enhance CX, customers are actually rejecting the ubiquitous tech.

Of those surveyed, 88 percent admitted to having “major concerns” about AI, while 64 percent stated that they would prefer companies to not use AI for customer service.

Moreover, the survey’s findings suggest that this dislike of AI may start to impact companies’ bottom lines, with over half of respondents stating that they would consider switching to a competitor if they discovered a company was using AI for customer service.

The danger of customer-facing AI potentially alienating an organization’s consumer base was discussed by Keith McIntosh, Senior Principal of Research at Gartner Customer Service and Support Practice.

“Sixty percent of customer service and support leaders are under pressure to adopt AI in their function,” McIntosh explained.

But they can’t ignore concerns about AI use, especially when it could mean losing customers.

But why are customers so wary of AI? And what can companies do to alleviate their concerns?

Recasting AI

When it comes to bridging the divide between how companies and customers view AI in the CX space, it is important to understand where customer concerns stem from.

As seen in the below graph, the number one issue mentioned by 60 percent of respondents was the fear that the use of AI will make it more difficult to reach a human agent.

In addition, there were substantial concerns around AI taking people’s jobs (46%) and providing incorrect information to customers (42%), while data security (34%) and AI bias/inequality (25%) were also cited.

4 Customer Insights to Improve the Service Experience
Source: Gartner: 4 Customer Insights to Improve the Service Experience

Given the changes in the customer service sector over the past few years, with a shift towards chatbots, live agents, and online forms, it is natural for customers to assume that AI enhancements will exacerbate this trend and lead to it being even more difficult to speak to a human agent.

In order to reassure customers, Gartner encourages customer service teams to utilize customer-facing AI as a “facilitator to best-fit solutions, not an agent replacement.”

The organization also emphasized the need for companies to communicate the benefits of GenAI more effectively – detailing how the tech can be used to improve CX, while still making it easy to contact a human agent when needed.

How and why companies can go about alleviating the major AI customer concerns was unpacked by McIntosh:

“Many customers fear that GenAI will simply become another obstacle between them and an agent. The onus is on service and support leaders to show customers that AI can streamline the service experience.”

Service organizations must build customers’ trust in AI by ensuring their GenAI capabilities follow the best practices of service journey design.

“For example, AI-infused chatbots must communicate to the customer that they will connect them to an agent in the event that the AI cannot provide a solution. It must then seamlessly transform into an agent chat that picks up where the chatbot left off.

“This way, the customer can trust that they will be able to efficiently find their solution while using the AI-infused channel.”

More AI Updates from Gartner

Interestingly, the advice in the report on deploying GenAI as a facilitator rather than a replacement resonates with comments made by Emily Potosky during a Gartner Q&A back in April.

The Senior Director of Research at Gartner Customer Service and Support Practice advised against solely relying on self-service and automation technologies – pointing out that most self-service solutions can’t fully resolve customer issues and that some level of human assistance will always be necessary.

Indeed, a separate Gartner survey of 822 business executives supports Potosky’s assertion, with 61 percent of customer service and support leaders expecting minimal headcount reductions (five percent or less) due to GenAI.

Potosky recommends that instead of using GenAI to replace human agents, companies should focus on leveraging employee enablement technology.

During the Q&A, it was argued that the tech had the ability to enhance and support current employees, while boosting the efficiency and effectiveness of their performance, as Potosky explains:

Providing employees with context and guidance through their technology will reduce a dependence on skills and expertise, and in doing so, lower costs and widen the available talent pool that can engage in customer-facing work.

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