In an era where businesses are keen to leverage technology for better productivity, the role of artificial intelligence (AI) has become increasingly significant. This is especially true in customer service, a field ripe for deploying AI technology. But how does this digital revolution fare in the hands of skilled versus less skilled customer service representatives? A groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at Stanford and MIT provides some startling insights.
The study, which involved over 5,000 customer service representatives at an unnamed Fortune 500 company, found that highly skilled customer service workers didn't see palpable productivity gains from having an AI-assistant at work. In fact, these skilled agents saw almost no improvement to their productivity from using an AI chat program that was designed to enable them to provide better and quicker answers to customers.
The AI assistant was trained to mimic the effective customer conversation styles that highly-skilled workers demonstrate. It was trained to understand features like the duration and outcomes of calls, and how top performers fared in those aspects. The AI system incorporated a recent version of GPT with additional machine learning algorithms, focusing on customer conversations.
However, while it didn't significantly boost the productivity of highly skilled workers, the AI assistant's impact on lower-skilled agents was significantly more pronounced. The study found that the AI tool helped lower-skilled workers "communicate more like high-skill agents".
The AI chat program, deployed at a software company, was designed to give customer representatives "real-time suggestions" on handling customer interactions. As a result, it led to an average productivity increase of 14%. These gains were felt most by lower-skilled agents. The AI tool was able to capture the expertise and tacit knowledge of high-skill workers and make it available to the less-experienced workers, thus boosting their performance.
Despite some potential shortcomings, such as occasional inaccurate answers and what researcher Erik Brynjolfsson describes as "hallucination and factuality" issues where AI tools authoritatively provide false responses, the study's authors asserted that "generative AI working alongside humans can have a significant positive impact on the productivity and retention of individual workers".
Brynjolfsson also suggested that he could "imagine ways that high-skill workers would also benefit" from AI tools. For example, generative AI could be useful for brainstorming ideas or for creative purposes1.
These findings suggest that AI technology in customer service acts as a great equalizer, helping to bring lower-skilled workers up to the level of their more skilled counterparts. The study also reinforces the idea that the optimal outcome lies in the symbiotic relationship between humans and machines. As Brynjolfsson noted, "The human plus machine together does better than the machine by itself, or the human by itself".
So, rather than viewing AI as a threat to job security, we might do better to see it as a tool that can enhance our performance and productivity, irrespective of our initial skill level. This study marks a significant step forward in understanding the complex dynamics of AI-assisted work and lays the groundwork for a more nuanced approach to integrating AI into the workplace.
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