Artificial Intelligence vs Actual Intelligence: Notes from Call & Contact Centre Expo

On Thursday 24th March I presented at the Call & Contact Centre Expo at the London Excel. I was slotted into the graveyard shift during the last couple of hours of the show, so I thought that I’d write up my thoughts to share a bit further.

AI in customer service is being heralded as the next undisputed champion to perform any intellectual human task, as dynamically as humans do. But is AI just a young upstart versus human agents?

With competing trends for increased personalisation, limitations in self-service and customer preference for human contact – will the Human Connection let the agent box smart and dance rings round AI?


Ding, ding seconds out Round 1. What’s the Big Fight? AI v AI

Ok – so when I talk about the battle between AI and AI, what do I mean? Well it’s the sparring match between Artificial Intelligence – think of the many applications you can see at any technology show you go to – and Actual Intelligence – what we as humans/contact centre agents all have.

Looking at the actual intelligence we have in contact centres, I’d like you to guess how many people work in Contact Centres just in the UK? In 2011 it was about 1m… but just 8 years on, it is now 4% of the UK population: about 3 million people – that’s twice as many people as work in the NHS.

And with all this technology-led artificial intelligence around, I was even more surprised that numbers are growing. More people, more Humans, more Actual intelligence.

But Why?

Let’s take a step back to answer this question and ask: where is this growing demand coming from? As we’ve moved through the 20th and into the 21st century we’ve seen a change in the focus of productivity in the workforce.


What does that mean for Artificial Intelligence v Actual Intelligence?

Let me introduce you to Chat Bot Cheryl… imagine Cheryl could be any of the AI applications you’ve seen at tech expos.

Artificial Intelligence is now surrounding us in our everyday lives. Voice controlled Personal Assistants like Alexa or Siri, in automated vehicles being run by the likes of Uber or Addison Lee, and personalisation algorithms used in the entertainment industry on our screens from the likes of Netflix.

All of these applications have a commonality. They show the ability to get smarter and more aware as they interact more with their users and its environment.

As a result, Chat Bot Cheryl has these impressive skills:

  • She’s fast, isn’t biased (as long as you ignore the bias of the person that programmed her).
  • She never gets tired of repetitive tasks, and as she ages, she gets better and becomes more accurate.
  • On monotonous, high frequency tasks Cheryl wins hands down – if she had any hands.

But apply Cheryl to a complex/multi-tasking problem and you start to have an issue. This is where Artificial Intelligence is still in its infancy.


So now let’s take a closer look at Actual Intelligence.

We know a Chatty Charlie, the contact centre agent, he’s great at the complex stuff. Joining the dots, giving empathy and applying the big picture.

He also loves Yorkshire Tea and needs at least 5 mugs a day. Charlie’s been known to be a bit variable in his work. In fact, on some occasions he’s not even shown up. He’s human – just like you and me.

What do we know about this battle between human and machine? Well, many contacts into call centres can be seen as a cost. In 2018 the average cost of an inbound call was £4.

Most of those contacts are high frequency/simple/repetitive tasks like password resets, stock checking or order status.

Let’s apply the 80/20 rule… 80% of contacts can be managed through many of the tools we see in the Artificial Intelligence world. This will have a big impact on the contact centre workforce – supporting some of the predictions made by the World Economic Forum that Artificial Intelligence will lead to 75 million job losses.

But let’s look at this from a Contact Centre point of view. The 20% of contacts left are the complex and critical ones, where the human connection is vital. So how do we deliver for the Age of the Customer?

Is it a fight or an opportunity?

Implementing Artificial Intelligence alongside Actual Intelligence provides an opportunity to empower stronger human connections and build more meaningful customer interactions.

In our jobs, this supports the key goal to help sustain and grow our relationships with existing and future customers. And it’s happening now.

So, it’s not AI v AI, it’s AI and AI: we simply need to get the right Artificial/Actual Mix.

Ask yourself – what is your optimal combination of Artificial and Actual Intelligence? How do you find the tools to complete the simple stuff through automation, whilst leaving the complex stuff to be managed by the human connection?

What is your MIX?

Bill Gates said: “Artificial Intelligence will improve productivity, and in doing so, give us more free time to use in an enlightened way”.


UK employment is at its highest in 47 years but that level of employment is predicted to drop unless technology, such as artificial intelligence, supports the improved productivity of the workforce.

So as we grow the number of agents, they alone aren’t the answer in the Age of Customer.

It’s getting the right Artificial and Actual Intelligence MIX.


Want to know more about how AI is being used in the contact centre? Read our recent blog AI: 4 reasons we shouldn’t write off the human contact centre agent just yet.

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