Should Generative AI Chatbots Replace Customer Support Agents?

At Helix, we believe (and know) that GenBots can do much of what customer service agents can do. But can GenBots do everything a customer service agent...

Should Generative AI Chatbots Replace Customer Support Agents?

This weekend, The Guardian  published a great article by Ben Tarnoff about Joseph Weizenbaum, the creator of the world's first chatbot, entitled "'A certain danger lurks out there':  How the inventor of the first chatbot turned against AI."  

If you're fascinated by AI and have the time, you should read it.  (Head's up – it's pretty long.)

In the TL;DR version:

Weizenbaum was born in 1923, grew up Jewish in Nazi Germany, and then moved to Detroit in 1936. In 1963, he became a professor at MIT and that same year, MIT launched Project MAC – short for "Machine Aided Cognition" – with a $2.2M grant from the Pentagon.  Three years later -- as part of Project MAC -- he created ELIZA, the world's first chatbot.  ELIZA had the persona of a psychotherapist.

The Pentagon's funding of ELIZA troubled Weizenbaum. Worried that his creation would be used for political – or worse yet, military – purposes, he became deeply involved in the anti-war movement.  In 1976, he published a book entitled, "Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation."  

Tarnoff summarizes Weizenbaum's seemingly heretic position on AI:

For Weizenbaum, we cannot humanise AI because AI is irreducibly non-human. What you can do, however, is not make computers do (or mean) too much. We should never “substitute a computer system for a human function that involves interpersonal respect, understanding and love.” Living well with computers would mean putting them in their proper place: as aides to calculation, never judgment.

What makes Generative AI bots special?

Generative AI-based bots (we'll call them GenBots, for short) are a massive paradigm shift in the customer support/service sector.  Specifically:

  • GenBots are available 24/7 and will be able to respond in real time.
  • They speak hundreds of languages.
  • They can understand arbitrarily complex customer questions.
  • They can provide highly accurate and relevant responses and even act on customers' behalf.

But can GenBots do everything a customer service agent does?

  • Can they listen to a customer's difficult situation and make exceptions to policies and procedures?
  • Can they empathize with a customer's problems and advocate internally to ensure their problem is addressed?
  • Can they use human judgment to determine if a product is in returnable condition?
At Helix, we're confident that generative AI bots can do much of what customer service agents can do. But the ethical question is, should they?

At Helix, we believe that GenBots can and should be deployed responsibly.  As such, we propose our own Generative AI ethics pledge.

At Helix, we believe Generative AI bots should:

  • Never try to pass themselves off as human agents. Consumers should know that they interact with a bot, not a human.
  • Work seamlessly with human agents. When a customer asks to be transferred to a human agent, a GenBot should hand off the full context of the chat to the live agent so the customer doesn't need to repeat him/herself.
  • Not make things up.  Making things up will confuse the customer and eventually undermine trust in the brand.
  • Be free from bias. i.e., GenBots should treat customers the same regardless of gender, race, or religion. A simple way to achieve this is, brands should not feed those variables into a GenBot.
  • Protect customer privacy.  All conversations with a GenBot should be treated as confidential and should not be used to help inform a 3rd party system (which could then leak private data).

In other words, for brands to succeed, GenBots and live customer success agents need to co-exist. Give the simpler, more repetitive questions and tasks to the GenBots, and use human agents to do things that humans are uniquely qualified to do – use judgment, empathize, and connect with customers.

Deployed responsibility, GenBots will delight customers by being available 24/7/365, dramatically decreasing the time first to respond and improving the time to resolution.

We're Helix, and our mission is to delight our customers' customers.