AI can enhance human connections – and the customer experience needs this most of all

AI is driving one of the biggest business transformations in history, where companies are moving fast to figure out how to use the technology to deliver more for customers.

The acceleration of AI has also sparked conversations about the effect it’ll have on employment – in particular, whether smart technology is undermining the value of human labour.

Across many industries, this fear is playing out in both the customer and employee experience, with a heavy focus on how generative AI will disrupt traditional ways of working, and how people interact with companies.

This disruption is often painted in stark terms, where employment opportunities will decline as machines move to the centre stage.

But companies that harness this technology to connect and empower people, rather than replace them, will find success with their customers, higher revenue and happier employees.

What the customer experience typically looks like

The contact centre at, say, a large health insurance company is the tip of the spear for the customer experience. The phones are ringing every second with customers wanting to know any number of details of their insurance package. What does it include? How quickly can payouts be made? What paperwork is involved?

Each customer is different: one is a first-time caller anxious to be told that they will receive full support; another knows the insurance process well and simply wants clarity on a few details; yet another is frustrated at having to go through the process yet again.

On the customer service side, contact centre agents are often grouped by skill set, as determined by the organisation’s business goals. Customers are typically routed to the first available agent within a group based on what they’re calling about, which leaves the opportunity of an optimal connection to chance and money on the table.

Improving, not undermining, the human element of CX

There are two false assumptions about the contact centre. The first is that agents are all alike; the second is that AI can now do the same jobs that humans have typically done – or better.

“While generative AI chatbots are great at simple interactions, such as helping a customer get updates on their account, they can’t do everything,” said Syed Adeel Ahmed, VP of AI R&D at Afiniti.

“In higher stakes interactions, like when a customer is filing a claim for a health procedure, the empathy only another person can provide makes a huge difference and can’t be replicated by a chatbot.”

Afiniti’s CX AI technology is designed to enhance, not undermine, the human element of the customer experience.

Just as each customer has a unique set of needs, each agent has their own set of skills and experience. The key challenge is designing an effective customer experience that harnesses this diversity to successfully match the right agent with the right customer.

Afiniti’s technology kicks into gear the second a customer makes contact with a contact centre. It’s at that first point of connection where the experience optimisation begins.

“Instead of routing the customer to the first available agent, as is often the case, companies use Afiniti’s AI to pair customers with agents based on historical patterns of data – such as how an agent has handled similar interactions and why a customer has contacted the company in the past,” said Ahmed. “This puts the agent in a position to deliver on critical metrics, like closing gaps in care, so the customer leaves the interaction satisfied.”

The success of any AI tool rests on how dynamic it can be, and how it can respond to challenging scenarios. Afiniti’s AI engine trains continuously, and on any given day may take into consideration hundreds of variables, such as product launches and agent turnover, to construct optimal models for connecting customers and agents.

The result? A better customer and agent experience and measurable increases in revenue.

Afiniti’s innovations support large enterprises – in insurance, telco, finance and hospitality – that are dealing with thousands to hundreds of thousands of calls each day.

Ensuring fairness with AI

Another concern about AI is the potential for bias to emerge and affect its decision-making processes. Afiniti has designed its tool so that it is constantly monitoring signs of bias, and quickly correcting them.

“Measurability is essential when implementing any AI technology to ensure it is both safe and effective,” said Ahmed.

“At Afiniti we turn our technology on and off throughout the day to create a benchmark. This allows us to continuously track whether bias or other unwanted effects are emerging when our AI is active so we can quickly mitigate them. We use this same capability to precisely measure the value our models are delivering against important business metrics.”

Afiniti has also addressed another unwanted effect that many contact centres face – uneven utilisation of agents. Often, contact centre agents considered high performers are routed to more customers than they can handle, while perceived lower performers aren’t given enough customer interactions to deliver on their KPIs.

Afiniti applies its technology fairly, harnessing the unique abilities of each agent across the contact centre at all times to ensure a consistent distribution and utilisation of agents – meaning no one slips to the bottom of the pile and no one gets burned out.

The need for human connection isn’t going anywhere

AI is exploding, and as Afiniti shows, the human connection complemented with advanced AI will be the foundation of the future customer experience.

After all, customers will always seek the reassurance that comes with human connection – the knowledge that you are being listened to, and that your concerns are being addressed.

AI can facilitate a better experience when it works with, not apart from, humans.

Originally published in Business Reporter on October 4, 2023.

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