Artificial intelligence is redefining customer service, but communication channels and engaged customer service agents remain vitally important.

Even a few years ago, it would have seemed far-fetched to verbally ask a device to perform a task or provide information. But personal assistants such as Alexa and Siri have become so ingrained in our culture that they’re changing our views of customer service.

According to the 2018 Aspect Consumer Experience Index, consumers are becoming accustomed to interacting with artificial intelligence (AI) technologies rather than human customer service agents. When asked to define “customer service,” 48 percent don’t include getting a question answered or a request completed with speaking or chatting with a customer service agent. However, 38 percent of all consumers and 50 percent of Millennials view the option of performing self-service as a natural part of the brand experience and as a positive attribute of the organization.

“The growth of AI and self-service interaction, combined with an increasing number of digitally native consumers is slowly changing the customer service landscape, and with it, the definition of customer service itself,” said Nancy Dobrozdravic, Vice President of Marketing, Aspect Software.

Can I Speak to an Agent?

Still, consumer expectations vary widely between agent-engaged and self-assisted interactions. Almost half (41 percent) of consumers who conducted self-service interactions had higher satisfaction expectations compared to doing the same with an agent. But consumers who conducted interactions with agents had a 70 percent satisfaction expectation compared to conducting the same via self-service.

Further, 70 percent of consumers said the most important component of AI and self-service interaction is being able to seamlessly transfer to a live agent should they desire. In other words, consumers want everything — AI, their choice of channel, and engaging, knowledgeable agents.

Many companies focus on “personalizing” the customer service experience by having agents state the customer’s name. However, 45 percent of consumers (and 66 percent of Boomers) said the most important aspect of a personalized experience is being able to interact with brands on the channel they want, even more important than knowing their name or their transaction history.

Happy Agents Equal Happy Customers

The Aspect Index survey reveals strong proof that agent positivity and commonality of experience play a big part in creating experiences consumers want. For example, 61 percent of consumers value talking with someone who has gone through the same experience they have more than they care whether the representative is employed in the company’s contact center or if they are a gig/contract worker.

And, proving the theory that happy agents equal happy customers, 62 percent of the respondents said that talking or live-chatting with a happy customer service agent would also make them happy. Most consumers (72 percent) said they would rather interact with a happy agent and have their experience take a little longer than interact with an uninterested agent and have their experience go a little faster.

“As much as consumers are demanding self-directed and intelligent-assistant driven experiences, consumers reveal that agents remain a vital component of the larger customer experience,” Dobrozdravic said. “These findings could indicate symbiotic relationships, where fulfilling self-directed interactions boost the brand while agent-assisted engagements underpin customer satisfaction and loyalty. Such considerations are central to how we evolve the entire digital transformation discussion.”