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Are we witnessing the end of humans in customer service?

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Joshua Feast

Modern business leaders know that economic uncertainties, external societal factors and an unstable labor market are always looming risks. Amid all this, there remains much opportunity for growth and innovation, giving plenty of reason for optimism. Many of the macro changes we’re witnessing give us a real chance to be more grounded, be less hyped, and increase the care we give to ourselves and our employees.

Speaking of hype, being on the side of augmenting humans, I am frequently asked, “will AI replace humans in customer service?” While this question isn’t new to anyone who has worked in this line of business, the latest advances in generative AI along with expected future advances nudge us to ask the question again with a new lens.

As we reconsider our working relationship with AI and automation, it’s important to first distinguish between Service and Self-Service. Service happens when another human solves a problem or performs a task for us. In contrast, Self-Service happens when we solve a problem or perform a task for ourselves using available tools. One of the biggest differences between Service and Self-Service is the emotional experience with each. With well executed Service, we rely on someone else to troubleshoot and solve our challenges, and it feels momentarily like the proverbial monkey is off our back. With Self-Service, we choose to resolve the challenge or handle the next step on our own.

The Demand for Service

The demand for Service grows as customers get wealthier, busier and more specialized. As this happens, customers have the luxury of letting a third party handle any challenges, inquiries or tasks they need accomplished in order to avoid spending precious and limited time on understanding the intimate details of things like insurance and telecom plans.

The Demand for Self-Service

Self-Service can afford customers the flexibility to solve the issue at odd hours through apps and devices. The demand for Self-Service permeates to the extent that it is more convenient and faster than Service – when effectively and appropriately implemented, which in turn depends on the degree of behind-the-scenes data integration within business systems.

Will Self-Service Eclipse Service?

The answer depends on which driving force behind the choice to use Service or Self-Service ultimately outweighs the other: Will increasing wealth and specialization overtake the convenience of Self-Service, or will expanded Self-Service capabilities leave Service obsolete even when customers have complex situations?

While the ultimate answer to that is unclear, it is clear that both forces are powerful today. For that reason most companies offer both Service and Self-Service options to their customers, sometimes positioning Service as part of a premium offering.

When it comes to generative AI, there is plenty of opportunity, but it’s too soon to tell how it could come to “replace” humans in the customer service industry. Additional service query categories, like certain requests for information, will be more conveniently addressed via Self-Service, meaning that the ever-increasing Service requests will continuously get more complex. With Service requests growing in complexity, AI needs to add more value to customer engagement by augmenting human-to-human interactions and providing a better, streamlined experience.

Technology has led to a dramatic shift in how brands engage both their customers and customer service agents in the contact center. As brands rethink customer service models, they need to continue asking themselves whether providing excellent Service is core to their product or if an aggregation of Self-Service tools is sufficient to meet the requirements of their customer base and market positioning. As this trend continues, it will be an exciting year filled with opportunities to reimagine service models and redetermine what is most important to us and our businesses.


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