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Coronavirus pandemic accelerates use of AI-based tools and kickstarts widespread adoption going forward

A jump in use of artificial intelligence-based tools by customers is likely to continue beyond the coronavirus pandemic, finds a global survey. But customers still want human interaction in a number of areas

Coronavirus pandemic accelerates use of AI-based tools and kickstarts widespread adoption going forward

COVID-19 has accelerated people’s adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) interactions such as voice assistants, chatbots, digital showrooms and facial recognition. However, customers still prefer human-only interactions when purchasing high-involvement products/services, in after-sales support for product maintenance and for providing feedback or making a complaint.

More than half of customers (54%) use AI such as chatbots, digital assistants, facial recognition or biometric scanners daily compared to just 21% in 2018, according to research by Capgemini. Of the 54% having daily interactions, three-fourths comes from customers between the age of 18 and 35. And more than three-quarters (77%) expect to increase the use of touchless interfaces – such as voice assistants and facial recognition – to avoid direct interactions with humans or touchscreens during COVID-19, while 62% will continue to do so post-COVID.

Meanwhile, nearly half (45%) of customers prefer voice interfaces when engaging with organisations followed by 30% who prefer chat interfaces and 15% who prefer AI systems built in websites/apps. Some 53% of organisations are deploying AI in physical places like stores, branches or customer service centres followed by 45% who are deploying AI at contact centres to enhance customer service.

Customer expectations have evolved to the point where they almost expect for interactions to be AI. So, when you actually put a human in the loop, they are very pleasantly surprised and sometimes shocked

However, the further that you go into the customer journey, the more customers want human interaction. Only 14% of customers prefer AI-only engagements for after sales support, while the preference for human-only interactions for after sales report remains at about 40% both in 2020 and in an earlier 2018 study.

Kelly Anderson, director, data science and artificial intelligence at Procter & Gamble says: “I believe that customer expectations have evolved to the point where they almost expect for interactions to be AI. So, when you actually put a human in the loop, they are very pleasantly surprised and sometimes shocked. This clearly shows that chatbots/ natural language processing/AI is making progress and has evolved.”

Capgemini says that, while many organisations might be looking to drive headcount efficiency through AI’s use in the customer journey, customers still prefer human-only interactions in several areas so it’s important to define which tasks are to be delegated to AI and which ones will fall to humans.

It will also be necessary to design a seamless handoff from AI to humans to avoid significant customer frustration when meeting customer needs not for human-only interaction, but a collaborative human-AI experience.

“We found that 41% prefer a mix of human and AI-based interaction when making a purchase and 39% when using a product/service. These preferences have not changed significantly since 2018, which means that for a large portion of the customer journey – excepting the initial stage of information search and browsing – a human touch is still very essential and will continue to be so,” says the company.

At the same time, relegating some of the more routine and low-value tasks – such as answering frequently asked questions – gives human workers the opportunity to add more value in sophisticated interactions. Says P&G’s Anderson: “What we are still working on is how to have that balance between the machine, which can do 90% of the job, and then having that human in the loop. The human intervention is for the extra touch needed, a super-premium proposition, and for the softer aspects that are required to drive that customer satisfaction.”

As AI takes over more tasks, customers still need the reassurance of a human interaction, particularly if the AI is failing to understand what they want or is failing to grasp a nuance that demands human empathy or emotional intelligence. The survey shows that 38% of customers chose a human interaction following a negative AI experience.

For the research, The art of customer-centric artificial intelligence, Capgemini surveyed more than 5,000 customers across 12 countries, undertook focus group discussions with customers in the US and Germany and surveyed more than 1,000 executives across eight industries: banking, insurance, consumer products, retail, automotive, utilities, government/public services, and public sector enterprises. We also conducted in-depth interviews with industry executives.

Published 22 July 2020

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