How Artificial Intelligence (AI) is Benefiting Customer and Employee Satisfaction

AI and Machine Learning (ML) are not only here, but if it’s not already a major part of your business strategy moving forward, you may be in danger of becoming the next Kodak. According to an article in Craving Tech, organizations that have integrated this new technology into their operations saw a 25% boost in customer satisfaction in 2023. Through chatbots and empathy simulators are transforming customer service by taking over tasks traditionally done by humans, such as speech recognition, empathy, and decision-making.

AI robots in contact center, using artificial intelligence

AI is not the end of Call Centers, it is Making them Better

AI is not set to eliminate contact centers but will lead to the emergence of Collaborative AI. Today more contact centers are marrying the agent experiences that leverage Collaborative AI. This approach merges the capabilities of both human and machine intelligence to improve problem-solving, decision-making, and overall effectiveness. It is already prevalent in sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing, research, finance, and contact centers.

Customer Service Reps Rank as one of the Lowest in Job Satisfaction

This shouldn’t surprise many, according to CareerExplorer, Customer Service Reps (CSRs) are one of the least happiest in their careers in the US. CareerExplorer conducted a survey with millions of people and asked them how satisfied they are with their careers. CSRs rated their career in the bottom 2% of all careers in happiness with an average score of 2.3 (out of 5).

The Impact Empathy has on Customer Loyalty

Empathy is fundamental in customer service for fostering trust and forming emotional bonds with customers. Research from Harvard Business Review indicates that emotionally connected customers are 52% more valuable than merely satisfied ones. A PwC study revealed that 73% of consumers would leave a brand lacking personal engagement, while Qualtrics found that 86% of customers are willing to pay more for empathetic customer service.

 Can AI Deliver Empathy better than your Employees?

When I first started hearing artificial intelligence could deliver empathy to customers better than people can, I thought it was absurd. How can technology be better at compassion and empathy than human beings? As I started doing more research, I am realizing AI in collaboration with employees, certainly can help improve the emotional connection made with their customers.

Day in the Life of a Contact Center Rep

Take for example a typical day working in a contact/support/call center. It can be extremely repetitive with different customers asking the exact same questions repeatedly. It could feel mind numbing and a contact center representative can start becoming robotic with their responses. On top of that, these same reps can suffer from empathy fatigue. Empathy Fatigue usually occurs in industries that constantly deal with customers who have high stress levels and anxiety that could be blamed on the company they are calling­­—think technical support.

Or the wear and tear contact centers reps feel when they work in what we refer to as grudge buy industries, which is a product or service customers must buy but is the last thing they want to do with their time or money. Grudge buys can include going to the dentist, water damage at your house, or needing your car repaired. Constantly dealing with these types of customers can cause even the best customer service reps to feel emotionally and physically drained which leads to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion.

Day in the Life of AI Technology

Now consider AI—it doesn’t get tired of answering the same question repeatedly. AI doesn’t take it personally when angry customers yell at them. AI doesn’t suffer empathy fatigue. A Wall Street Journal article titled “Can AI Do Empathy Even Better Than Humans? Companies Are Trying It” shares how computer scientists are teaching artificial intelligence to understand and simulate empathy. Large language models, powered by AI and trained on extensive datasets of voice, text, and video conversations, are becoming adept at recognizing and replicating emotions such as empathy—sometimes more effectively than humans, according to some claims. These advancements hold the potential to enhance communication in areas like customer support, human resources, mental health, and more, according to technology experts.

AI Coaching Customer Facing Employees on Empathy

The article cites how companies such as the telecommunications leader Cox Communications and the telemarketing giant Teleperformance are utilizing AI to assess the empathy exhibited by call center agents, incorporating these evaluations into performance assessments. “The benefits of the new technology could be transformative. In customer service, bots trained to provide thoughtful suggestions could elevate consumer interactions instantly, boosting sales and customer satisfaction,” the WSJ article said.

It is like Having a CX Coach on Zoom

The Wall Street Journal article also shared how Uniphore, a Palo Alto, California-based company specializing in enterprise AI, offers an AI-powered virtual meeting assistant designed to monitor the emotional reactions of participants during a call. This tool aids the meeting host by providing immediate insights into who is engaged or disengaged, and which parts of the presentation are having an impact. It evaluates emotional indicators such as anger, happiness, and confusion by examining facial expressions, tone of voice, and spoken words. A dashboard visible on the host’s screen displays sentiment and engagement levels of each participant and offers suggestions for the presenter to adjust their pace, demonstrate greater empathy, or implement other modifications.

 Therabots in Health Care

Healthcare professionals, including doctors and therapists, are leveraging generative AI to compose empathetic messages to their patients. For example, Lyssn.io, an AI-based platform designed to train and assess mental health therapists, is experimenting with a specialized GPT model that generates suggested textual responses for patient communication. When a patient expresses anxiety due to a challenging week at work, Lyssn.io’s chatbot offers the therapist three potential responses: “It seems like work has been particularly stressful this week,” “I’m sorry to hear about your tough week. How have you been coping with your stress and anxiety?” or “Thank you for opening up. Can you share some methods you’ve used in the past to manage your anxiety?”

Research has demonstrated that AI-assisted suggestions for modifying therapists’ replies to patients can improve the perceived

dr using artificial intelligence to create AI empathy for patient satisfactionempathy of those responses. In a study conducted on the online peer-support platform TalkLife, a bot trained in AI named Hailey offered guidance to 300 volunteer supporters on how to craft more empathetic responses to patient inquiries. For example, Hailey recommended changing “I understand how you feel” to “If that happened to me, I would feel really isolated,” and proposed altering “Don’t worry, I’m there for you” to “It must be a real struggle. Have you tried talking to your boss?” The incorporation of AI suggestions resulted in a 19.6% increase in empathetic responses compared to those crafted solely by humans. Tim Althoff, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Washington and one of the study’s authors, alongside Atkins and others, observed, “AI can amplify human empathy when used in conjunction with human insight.”

Accolade, a healthcare services provider located near Philadelphia, traditionally had supervisors listen to a couple of calls each week from the 1,200 health assistants who dealt with clients’ sensitive medical inquiries. Kristen Bruzek, the senior vice president of operations at Accolade, emphasizes that demonstrating empathy during calls is a critical evaluation criterion for their agents, reflecting the company’s fundamental values. However, measuring and standardizing empathy has been a challenging task. To address this, Accolade has adopted a machine learning AI model developed by Observe.AI, which is designed to identify signs of empathy in the conversations between agents and clients.

The team at Accolade is enhancing their algorithm to better identify a broader array of empathetic responses. They are enriching the computer model with various phrases that employees might use to convey sympathy and understanding, including expressions such as: “That must be really scary,” “I can’t imagine how that feels,” and “That must be so hard.” According to Ms. Bruzek, Observe.AI can evaluate up to 10,000 interactions daily between customers and staff, a substantial increase from the 100 to 200 evaluations that were achievable through manual review previously.

 By Improving the Customer Experience, Employee Satisfaction Increases

While artificial intelligence is already improving the customer experience, at the same time it can dramatically improve the employee satisfaction over the next decade. Tedious tasks that once took agents hours upon hours to complete—be it boring data entry or replying to repetitive questions—will be relegated to computers. There are numerous ways in which AI will impact the employee experience and boost employee satisfaction, in turn helping them create a best-in-class customer experience. AI will make the role of customer service agent far more rewarding and enjoyable.

Some of the biggest factors that make an employee frustrated and unhappy includes tasks filled with monotonous repetition and too much time spent info-searching across numerous systems. Harald Henn, CEO of Marketing Resultant, points out that “AI can support employees by eliminating tedious search tasks. AI-based “internal search systems” will find relevant information in a fraction of the time.” AI chatbots will handle those simple, monotonous tasks in real-time, freeing the employee from the tedium of repetition and creating a more positive employee experience.

How AI can help with Demanding, even Angry Customers

Another example of how AI can help reduce employee stress is when customers get angry or become very demanding. Employees feel pressure from the customer to find the necessary information as fast as possible. And during peak days or seasonal rushes, answering the same question hundreds of times a day doesn’t make any employee happy. AI will eliminate most if not all these transactions, such as delivery status questions, freeing up customer service representatives to focus on the more complex, rewarding tasks that require human attention and a deep understanding of customer needs.

In her blog, How AI Will Improve the Employee Experience This Decade, Kaila Krayewski shares, “The capabilities of AI can go far beyond automating simple, repetitive tasks if we consider how AI can work together with humans to create a team of what are essentially super employees.”

“Improving the employee experience can boost your business in a big way. It’s clear that AI can make employees happier. By taking away repetitive tasks, AI can work together with humans to augment their work, making them faster and more effective at every task,” said Krayewski.

AI will boost employee engagement. It will allow team members to bring their best traits to the workplace, with less focus on routine tasks leading to more time for solving customer issues and genuinely being there for them on an emotional level. Employees will bring the best of their humanity to each customer interaction. In theory, at least, this scenario will work well for everyone, particularly frontline employees.

Doing More with Less

Artificial Intelligence can help front line employees be more efficient and productive, which potentially means less staff will be needed. For example, bots functioning as therapists could mitigate the critical shortage of mental health professionals and provide support to individuals who otherwise lack access to care.

Agent assistance benefits from AI by helping agents understand customer needs in today’s multi-channel contact centers. AI sifts through knowledge bases during calls to find relevant information, which is then displayed on the agent’s screen. This not only saves time but also reduces costs by streamlining interactions and decreasing average handling times.

Chatbots are not only beneficial for customers but also for businesses, reducing the resolution time for simple queries and cutting costs by up to 30%. A PWC study found that 34% of business leaders report a decreased workload thanks to chatbots.

Let’s say you are calling a health care system, who have hundreds of different physicians, therapists, and service providers. AI can recognize the patient by caller ID, pull up their history for the agent, display the service provider the patient typically sees, and

contact center chatbot using AI to populate text

immediately show dates and times available to book an appointment.

Morgan Stanley, a prominent financial institution in the U.S., has implemented an AI-driven chatbot for internal use to enable employees to quickly access corporate knowledge. This tool aggregates information from multiple sources, offering workers a centralized location to find the necessary data.

AI can also listen in on a customer’s call and act as a search engine to a company’s database, website, and their product/service offerings, immediately populating potential answers to clients’ questions that the agent can pull from.

The impact of automation cannot be denied. There is no arguing that machines and AI are faster, cheaper, and more efficient. And they make fewer mistakes than humans. When a bank started using chatbots to handle more than 1.5 million claim requests each year, it found that the work of 85 bots was equal to the output of 200 full-time human employees…at only 30 percent of the cost.

Can AI Help HR Hire Better Candidates?

HR specialists predict that AI tools designed to assess empathy levels in conversations will play a larger role in the recruitment processes. Humanly.io, a firm specializing in recruitment and analytics that serves clients such as Microsoft, Moss Adams, and Worldwide Flight Services, measures both chatbots and human recruiters based on the empathy demonstrated during job interviews. Prem Kumar, CEO and co-founder of Humanly.io, notes, “There is a positive correlation between displaying higher empathy and active listening in conversations and increased rates of job and sales offer acceptances.”

In a case at a major technology company, analytics from Humanly.io pinpointed a lack of empathy and active listening by recruiters during interviews with female candidates. Following the identification of this issue and the subsequent feedback provided to recruiters, the acceptance rate for job offers among women improved by 8%, according to Kumar.

Proceed with Caution

However, the application of artificial empathy in clinical environments raises concerns about diminishing the expectation for authentic human empathy towards those in distress. Furthermore, there’s a question about the impact on our empathetic abilities if the responsibility of expressing compassion is transferred to AI. Could relying on AI for articulating empathy lead to a decline in our own empathetic competencies?

According to Jodi Halpern, a professor of bioethics at the University of California, Berkeley and an expert on empathy and technology, AI can exhibit “cognitive empathy,” which means it has the ability to recognize and react to humans based on its training data. However, this is distinct from “emotional empathy,” which involves the ability to deeply understand and share in another person’s emotional state, including their pain, hopes, and suffering, and to feel a genuine sense of concern. Halpern emphasizes that the type of empathy most valuable in a clinical context requires the healthcare provider to emotionally engage with the patient’s experiences. This level of empathy is beyond what a bot, lacking personal feelings or experiences, can offer.

“What happens if machines aren’t good at measuring aspects of empathy that humans consider important, like the experience of illness, pain, love and loss?” says Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “What machines can score will become the definition of what empathy is.”

Shockingly More and More Customers are Willing to Deal with AI

A great percentage of customers are becoming more accepting of dealing with AI and chatbots, especially as the younger generations (Millenials & Gen Z) represent more of businesses’ customer base and the older generations (boomers and silent), who many have been technology resistant, become less. Today only 42% of consumers still prefer human customer service representatives to AI alternatives, Servion survey reported. While a Capgemini survey found that over 70% of customers favor voice assistants that mimic human interactions, emphasizing the demand for emotional engagement through technology.

Self-service options powered by AI allow customers to resolve their issues at their convenience without the need for a live agent. AI’s ability to enable self-service is growing, offering users autonomy in addressing their concerns.

Chatbots offer convenience for users who prefer digital communication over traditional phone calls, providing services directly on their mobile devices. AI excels in automating routine inquiries, freeing up human employees for more complex issues.

The integration of AI across customer service channels is set to increase as clients become more accustomed to AI interactions, helping businesses improve efficiency and service quality. Juniper Research predicts that bots could save various industries about $11 billion in costs.

The rise of AI in customer service signifies a shift in how businesses engage with their customers. However, it’s essential to remember that AI is not here to replace human agents but to enhance the customer service journey. By combining AI with human expertise, businesses can offer exceptional experiences that foster loyalty.

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About The Author

John DiJulius

John R. DiJulius is a best-selling author, consultant, keynote speaker and President of The DiJulius Group, the leading Customer experience consulting firm in the nation. He blogs on Customer experience trends and best practices.