The Economist | How to use AI to scale up customer service

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

“Please hold.” “We are experiencing a high volume of calls.” “Your call is important to us.” Call a customer-service number these days and you’re likely to be on hold for a while. Amid the covid-19 outbreak, many organisations have been overwhelmed by people seeking guidance on health, finances, benefits and other transactions. While the volume of requests has doubled or tripled, capacity to respond has not kept pace, as some call centres (which pack people close together) have had to shut down. Is it time for customer-service systems based on artificial intelligence (AI) to step up? Such systems, which can be deployed as chatbots or interactive voice-response systems, claim to be able to understand and respond to written or spoken language, tapping into databases and even detecting callers’ emotions. But get it wrong, and you risk letting down customers when they are most in need of quick, accurate responses.

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