Recently, there’s been a massive wave of hype gathering and encircling the technologies of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and data analytics. However, a helpful human remains a provider of a better customer experience than an unhelpful robot. The trick for communications service providers (CSPs) therefore is to automate where the benefits are clear but not to get swept away by technology for technology’s sake.

Many of the dynamics currently being explored by forward-thinking companies all over the world seemingly contain massive, in-built contradictions. For example, we talk of big data, measured in petabytes, enabling marketing to the power of one. We speak of achieving personalization at scale and of data scientists and business intelligence experts focusing on emotions, sentiment and intent. We also want to surprise and delight our customers by analyzing our data to provide them with relevant and attractive offers – all this without being creepy.

These goals don’t seem consistent with the tools, people and technologies we’re planning to use to achieve them and, as further technologies in the shape of AI, ML and robots enter the market place, the gulf is widening. BriteBill recently conducted a survey and asked: Which of the following statements do you think is more believable?

a) My service provider is dedicated to improving my experience when it comes to my bill

or

b) Robots will take over the world.

More than a quarter (27.5%) selected option b – well, at least they seem to be expecting more automation.

However, the serious point is that AI, automation, ML and data analytics have huge value to offer CSPs but come with substantial risks. Anything that is automated, or machine learned can go wrong, causing the wrong message to be sent or the right message to be sent at the wrong time. There’s a real danger that we could end up simply doing the wrong thing faster.

Caution is therefore necessary and by this I don’t mean innovation should be paralyzed, but instead each step and introduction assessed carefully for its intrusiveness, accuracy and value to the user. The customer should be the focus always and from their perspective the technology should be flawless to the extent that it is unobtrusive. Customers don’t need to know what technology is being utilized, just that they’re getting excellent service and support for whatever it is they’re trying to do.

For CSPs, the goal has to be to harmonize the apparent contradictions I set out earlier, so they can understand what the customer is trying to do and how CSPs can help them do it better, faster or cheaper. If they can do that, then everything else follows and customers will become brand advocates and remain loyal.

Becoming too technology-oriented risks alienating customers who are not ready for automated support, find data analytics-enabled marketing communications intrusive or simply prefer speaking to a human about their services. What is encouraging is that all of these preferences can co-exist happily in the telecoms world. Increased automation can be enabled with rich, individualized communications that satisfy early adopters and the needs of Generation Y and Z customers, while traditional voice or web channels can continue to be provided to those who prefer to interact in that manner.

What it comes down to is that customer communications are personal and CSPs should continue to recognize that the technologies, channels and methods used are not selections, they’re an arsenal of weaponry with which they can fight to achieve customer delight.