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Generative AI is undoubtedly a potent new technology, which might help improve customer service, but it is not a panacea, nor should it replace humans entirely for many experiences. Enterprise software vendors should be wary of relying too heavily on AI chatbots for support, as customers facing mission-critical issues will always want to know they can work directly with a human support expert. 

It’s concerning that some vendors are adopting AI chatbots for support, likely not to improve customer experiences, but to simply cut costs by further minimizing the already miniscule amount of time they interact with their customers. In doing so, this race to the bottom risks deflecting customer concerns rather than addressing the root causes of problems, which could result in customer frustration in the short term and damaged loyalty in the long term.

Vendors certainly should not ignore how and when to apply AI chatbots, so long as they remain focused on improving the customer experience. This is truly a transformational technology, and rapid adoption has opened many eyes to the potential of AI in general to improve business results and the use of commercial products. Still, there are warning signs aplenty to take measured steps instead of rushing ahead without understanding the risks.

Major Issues to Consider

Enterprise software support is seldom easy, and it is not going to get easier simply by preventing customers from engaging with human support experts. In particular, the demonstrated tendency of AI chatbots to “hallucinate” represents a potential landmine. Do you really want to rely on a chatbot that simply makes things up in response to customer inquiries?

Also problematic is that the technology is in its infancy, and choosing winners and losers at this early stage is virtually impossible. The industry is evolving at a rapid pace, best practices are slowly taking shape, and a wave of consolidation is sure to be coming, perhaps at an unprecedented level. Would you want to bank your business future on a chatbot support option that could evaporate or be rendered obsolete by the next disruptive innovation?

Customers need to be assured that the cloud services that make AI chatbots commercially viable are not being used to mine their data primarily to assist a vendor’s effort to feed the insatiable large language models needed to make the solution more effective. Already, we’ve seen some of the more prominent chatbots offering up responses that have been exposed as regurgitating info from competitive services. Just imagine the reputational damage if your AI chatbot provided Bank A with proprietary information derived from Bank B.

Take a walk in the shoes of your customer for a moment, and consider what does it say about a brand who will not make real human interaction available when a client seeks it out. Boosting real human customer service with AI technology is one step, but replacing it entirely with AI brings risks to brand reputation that are costly to repair.

Plotting a Sound Direction

There is no argument here for turning back the tide. New, innovative processes and services powered by AI are being developed and will disrupt whether you are on board or not. As we’ve already seen, embracing new technology drives activity and enthusiasm, which can be invaluable, especially for mature organizations. But consider carefully how to best approach these capabilities and how to avoid wrong turns.

  • Spread the risk: First off, software support organizations should spread the risk by exploring multiple generative AI tools, rather than committing to a sole vendor’s strategy that could trap you in a virtual box canyon.
  • Kick the tires: It’s relatively straightforward to adopt AI chatbot technology, so you can onboard teams rapidly and use sparingly, which is another argument for spreading your bets among different providers. Your teams can work on and iterate through different generations of AI tools, learning from each other and strengthening your capabilities as you go. 
  • Use common sense: Ensure you implement common sense controls around privacy and new capabilities such as facial recognition that may be tempting and bring a ‘cool factor’ but which can easily be misused and lead to reputational damage.
  • Protect your IP: Understand where your solution provider is gathering data to feed its large language models. Make sure you have solid agreement and guardrails on what happens with your own data and that of your customers. You don’t want to expose your IP or that of customers.

Augment, Not Replace

If you go into this thinking you can replace your investment in client-facing experts with AI chatbots, you’ve probably already taken a wrong turn. At all costs, stay focused on your mission, which means staying focused on improving the experiences of your customers. 

AI most definitely can be used to change the support experience for the better, particularly if it is used to supplement and enrich the activities of your teams. As AI tools “learn” and improve, they will become more capable, freeing up valuable resources for new initiatives.

When customers become more accustomed and trusting of interacting with AI chatbots, you may well be able to differentiate your business with its ability to utilize these tools better than your competitors.