If you have ever seen movies like Ex Machina, Transcendents or I Robot, you will know what I mean by Artificial Intelligence. AI is where a machine has enough intelligence to be able understand and respond in the same way a human would, but without the emotional level.

With more and more money going into AI research, we are beginning to create robots and machines that are able to learn and think for themselves. These computer systems are being created to complete tasks that humans would normally conduct, tasks such as making a phone call and booking a salon hair cut.

As demonstrated recently, Google has been been working on AI phone calls where it makes a phone call and organises a haircut and restaurant booking. Google's AI makes a phone call to a lady at a salon, and their AI is able to listen and respond back accordingly, successfully carrying out a full conversation and haircut booking. With the incredibly realistic AI voice, it makes it almost impossible to realise it is not a human speaking. See their demo there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvbHu_bVa_g

With technology already at this level, it makes me wonder whether AI like this will make its way into the Councils in the near future.

But how can AI help the Councils? What would this mean for us and our customers? Should we, and when could we, implement this? Let’s find out…

AI is an incredible tool that will allow customer service centres to be able to answer more important phone calls. AI could be used to answer customer calls that are more common, the calls that take up a lot of our customer service agents time. By freeing their call load, it would mean that wait times for customers would be shorter, but they would still be able to answer the more common phone calls through the AI system.

For smaller organisations, AI could be a great tool to help with money saving. By saving money needed to hire a customer service agent to deal with a few possible phone calls, companies could use their savings to help with progression of the calls. But for larger organisations like Adur & Worthing Councils, it would help our agents spend more time on more demanding customer calls, instead of dealing with the more mundane queries.

With the future of AI being able to understand and respond to customer moods, this would help us deal better with difficult conversations. AI systems also have the ability to track and monitor the types of phone calls, responses and moods of their conversations, which help with the evaluation of and learning through each customer call, which in turn improves future call handling.

We are already using speech recognition all around the world, including at Adur & Worthing Councils, to direct calls to the correct location by recognising spoken words and translating them into a machine readable format.  Many companies, such as those for accident claims, are using the next level of this, by using AI to call and talk to customers on the phone. However this version of AI underperforms and does not respond well.

It is clear to see that the transition into technologies like AI is happening now, rapidly, and in a way that we as customers don’t notice the transition from customer contact to robot contact. It appears that AI phone calls could be closer than we expect, with IBM estimating that “by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions will be handled without a human agent.”

During a Digital talk last month, Tom Cheesewright, a well-recognised futurist, expressed his predictions for the future of Digital. He discussed the possibility of AI taking over human jobs and the impact this could have on our future. Although a real possibility in the years to come, it is important that we keep abreast the real importance of human contact, and this is where we hit our main issue of implementing AI, especially within the Councils, one that I believe will stop AI taking over as many jobs as is predicted in the future.

It is the issue of real human sympathy and empathy. As many of us have most likely experienced in our years, sometimes there are situations where you need and require human conversation. Especially when you need  need customer service for a tricky or frustrating situation, human sympathy and empathy can go a long way towards calming the situation and understanding your personal concerns and frustrations. It’s better for our wellbeing. If we completely remove this and replace with AI, even if AI is able to respond well to the moods and tone of the conversation, it is less likely to help us as customers feel like we are being heard and truly understood.

The personal connection and understanding is a very important aspect of Adur & Worthing Councils’ customer service, especially because the Councils deal with such a wide variety of customers, requiring a wide variety of needs and services. To completely replace that with AI would likely not be well received, but to replace smaller, less important areas of the Councils customer service areas it would be worthwhile for all involved.

With the possibility of saving money, staff workload and customer waiting hours, it is highly possible that AI could be coming to the Councils sooner than we think. Although a robotic council will please many, a complete loss of human customer contact would be greatly opposed.

I suppose we will just have to wait and see what the future holds…