The Rise (And Fall) Of the Bots: How to Avoid Over-Boterisation
By Rod Jones, CX industry specialist
Have you ever found yourself stuck in a never-ending loop with a chatbot, yearning for real, live human intervention? You're not alone. The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionised the call centre industry, offering automation, self-service, and voice call deflection, among other cost-saving measures. However, there's a looming risk I call "Over-Boterisation", which is the excessive reliance on bots at the expense of human interaction and, often, positive customer experiences.
BOTS EXCEL AT HANDLING STRAIGHTFORWARD, REPETITIVE TASKS.
They efficiently manage basic queries such as account balances, appointment scheduling, and frequently asked questions, freeing human agents to deal with more complex issues. However, the human touch is irreplaceable regarding intricate, complex, urgent, or emotional matters. A recent UK-based study found that over 70% of customers prefer to speak to a human agent when they have a complex, urgent or emotionally charged issue. This underscores that while AI is advancing, it's not yet at the point where it can replace human skills like empathy.
Trapping a frustrated customer in a self-service loop risks alienating them and tarnishes the reputation of AI-enabled services as a whole. The consequences can be far-reaching: increased churn rates, negative reviews, and even public backlash on social media platforms. All of these could ultimately affect a company's bottom line. The lesson here is clear: Technology should be an enabler for better customer service, not a barrier.
Some innovative organisations, particularly in sectors like online retail, financial services, and airlines, are already taking this further. They are designing their self-service and live call deflection strategies to include AI capable of detecting early signs of customer frustration or hesitancy. In such cases, the digital or self-service interaction is seamlessly passed off to a live agent. Some UK retailers are implementing this strategy successfully, with hand-offs to agents as far afield as Cape Town. This proves that geography does not limit a well-designed path from AI-enabled self-service to human agents.
ACHIEVING A BALANCE BETWEEN BOTS AND HUMANS IS EASIER SAID THAN DONE.
It requires careful planning, realistic expectations, and a deep understanding of the technology and the customer. There is undoubtedly a need for a balanced approach to automation in call centres. While senior management might anticipate immediate cost reductions through increased efficiency or headcount reductions, well-engineered AI's primary aim is often not to replace human agents but to augment their capabilities.
The rise of bots in the call centre industry presents both an opportunity and a challenge. While AI offers unprecedented efficiencies and cost-saving measures, the key to its successful implementation lies in balance. Bots and human agents must work harmoniously to provide a seamless, efficient, and emotionally resonant customer experience. Organisations must remain vigilant as we move into an increasingly automated future. They need to continuously measure their bots' cost savings and effectiveness and, more importantly, the impact on the overall customer experience.
I asked Kobus van der Westhuizen, Founder and CEO of Cape Town-based Digital Tribe BPO, for his opinion. “It's not the bots that fail,” he said, “it’s the humans deploying the bots that fail. Inaccurate Chatbot design, poor process design and inaccurate systems integration make chatbots or process bots fail. It has to be accurate, user-friendly and effective to drive resolution.”
To overcome this, the company’s development team are now focusing on utilising Generative AI to deploy ‘Agent Assist Bots’, which augment the efficiencies and quality of the human agent successfully during the customer interaction process, whether it’s a voice or digital agent. Kobus stressed, “It's also important to provide a ‘human agent assist’ feature throughout the automated bot process for customers to chat to a human agent when the bot does not provide resolution.”
Ultimately, great CX comes with the channel of choice for customers. It is vital to give the customer options to interact with the brand on the channel of their choice: voice, chat or automated self-service – AutoCX.
Generative AI will also not solve all the CX problems. However, it will certainly enhance it if deployed correctly. Customer-centric brand owners are advised to invest in an interdependent human-bots strategy. It will still provide efficiencies and cost reductions but is much more effective when humans and bots work as an integrated service process enhanced by Generative AI.
In an age of ubiquitous technology, the human touch has become both a luxury and a necessity. Organisations that truly master this balance will survive and thrive, setting a gold standard in customer service that others will aspire to achieve.