At Last, Customer Service Agents That Customers Can't Drive Crazy. Smart agents can improve customer service and increase productivity.

By Jonathan Crane

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In the shifting landscape of IT and customer service, traditional approaches are reaching the limits of human capability.

As call centers and help desks attempt to keep up with growing demand while lowering costs and improving performance, cognitive and artificial intelligence (AI) technology offers a solution that scales.

The first phase of this transformation has already begun. By 2018, Gartner estimates that 30 percent of interactions with technology will be through conversations with smart machines. Soon, the receiver of your next customer service request will more than likely not be handled by a live human or occur on the phone.

Frustrations with phone-based service are pushing people to opt for interactions via chat, text and email. According to EConsultancy, 73 percent of adults prefer customer service interaction via chat - primarily because they believe their questions are answered faster.

And Forrester found that the top complaints about customer service - long hold times, scripted menu selections and repeating information -- were directly related to voice-based service.

Live chat directly addresses those issues, fulfilling customer requests quickly; providing answers without the use of frustrating menus; allowing users to multi-task throughout the process; and storing information to avoid having to repeat it. Combine all of these factors together, and it adds up to a superior customer service experience.

Related: Meet RankBrain: the New AI Behind Google's Search Results

If chat was the most recent example of customer service innovation, cognitive technology layered onto chat will be the next. Call it Chat 2.0.

We are entering a new cognitive age where AI agents, like IPsoft's Amelia, can overcome the limits of human-powered live chat and be programmed to deliver superior performance. There are only so many people qualified to answer technical questions after all.

Related: Meet Amelia, the AI Platform That Could Change the Future of IT

In contrast, the around-the-clock support, emotionally-aware, error-free responses and efficiency of AI technology can deliver a compelling and quick payoff. With AI shouldering more of the workload, skilled employees are able to focus on higher level tasks, keeping workplace morale high and employee turnover low.

The IRS provides a great opportunity for smart service technology. The agency handles millions of calls during tax season, but budget cutbacks have deeply damaged customer service.

Related: Why We Shouldn't Fear Artificial Intelligence

During the 2015 filing season, the IRS answered just 37 percent of all the calls it receieved. While funding to the IRS has been cut by almost one-fifth since 2010, the volume of identity theft attacks has increased. Without a significant cash infusion from Congress, the IRS will continue to face serious issues.

It's a challenge AI and automation are perfectly suited to solve. Allowing smart agents to answer the easiest and most common questions would help the IRS resolve more requests and tackle more complex issues, such as identify theft and tax fraud - efforts that have suffered due to a 23 percent cut in employees focused on tax enforcement since 2010.

Cognitive technology presents a watershed moment in how executives can manage IT and customer service. It is now possible to staff service desks with both digital and human labor. Whether these agents are deployed internally or as customer-facing chat agents, AI technology holds the power to improve service for everyone involved.

Jonathan Crane

Chief Commercial Officer, IPsoft

Jonathan Crane has been a technology industry leader for more than 35 years with significant cloud experience. Mr. Crane is currently the Chief Commercial Officer at IPSoft, where he is responsible for overall growth strategies.

Before joining IPsoft he served as President and Chairman of the board at Savvis, overseeing significant expansion of the company's cloud business including a comprehensive redirection of its sales organization and its marketing focus. Prior to Savvis he rejoined a troubled Worldcom as Chief Strategy Officer and led the company out of bankruptcy. Earlier in his career Crane held numerous executive positions in corporations such as Lightstream, Marcam Solutions, MCI, and ROLM. Mr. Crane received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College, and he is a current director of the Eleazar Wheelock Society, a non-profit dedicated to furthering the interests, welfare, and educational purposes of the college.

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