Ignition CX the future of AI in the CX space
Ignition CX
Ignition CX

The future of AI in the CX space

Chalk Treatment
Jon Ellsworth, Senior Vice President: Customer Engagement, talks about what will happen in the future of CX.

No technology is generating more conversations (in both senses, and with end users and decision makers alike) like AI, and no technology is disrupting more industries. So where does the rise of AI and machine learning leave the CX industry, and where is this all heading?

The outsourcing industry is primarily focused on two areas, user customer experience and satisfaction and cost reductions, with India, the Philippines and South Africa as key players due to their cost-saving advantages. South Africa in particular, though, offers excellent linguistic capabilities at a competitive price point and has risen to the absolute top of most desired geographies.

While cost-efficiency remains important, the evolving client demand places a stronger emphasis on providing the best customer experience. This shift means that price is no longer the sole consideration; instead, value and quality have gained significance.

Modern customers expect omnichannel support – phone, chat and email – often changing their preferred mode during a conversation or day by day, or the type of interaction. This dynamic has prompted businesses to continually refine their customer support strategies to both enhance the customer experience and reduce costs, while the advancement of artificial intelligence technology has made it more powerful and accessible, leading many brands to incorporate it into their customer support operations.

Right now, the dividing line for a company and decision makers in either adopting AI or not is whether the company is comfortable using it. Are they comfortable that the technology is now good enough to be trusted? Are they comfortable that AI can deliver a good enough service to their customers, consistently while not reducing satisfaction? Are they comfortable that their customers will in turn be comfortable getting service from bots, or do they require genuine human interaction? As soon as the answer to these questions is yes, the current CX model must and will change on a large scale.

CX as an industry is going to have to adapt and adopt, integrating robust AI solutions into the portfolio of offerings so that providers can offer whatever solution the client requires: human, AI or hybrid. If providers do not accept this transformation and the inclusion of AI as an integrated service offering, they will be left behind.

In the foreseeable future, I see a hybrid model being the most successful solution: AI is incredibly good at handling repetitive tasks, transactions that are simple in nature. Interactions that are more complex, that require serious decision making, will still result in the need for an agent, albeit an agent that is much more skilled and capable. A country like South Africa has the human capital and resources to provide human customer support, and we also have the intellectual and technological capabilities to provide AI solutions.

The ethical question

If we look past the cost factor, there are concerns that need to be considered by individuals, workers and the business world, and the main concern is that every person who currently answers a call is a person who needs to make a livelihood and live, who needs to make money to feed their family. Generally, one job in the contact center world in offshore geographies typically contributes significantly to supporting an average four-person family.

While AI technology looks good from a profitability perspective, that profitability comes at a social cost, at a human cost. That profitability for shareholders is removing jobs from people in parts of the world where there are already job shortages and where there is already poverty.

This is a serious ethical question, and the industry needs to look at where we draw the line: yes, we need a cost reduction, which we can get by going to a country like South Africa, but is taking that next step, of removing people from the equation, taking that quest for cost saving a step too far?

This too comes down to whether a company is comfortable with making that decision and having that impact on society.

There are also ethical concerns around the utilization of AI, where customers question if the ‘person’ they are interacting with is real or a bot. Questions like these must be answered with honesty, but not all AI systems do that, and that is a genuine concern with regards to truthfulness and integrity.

Some US states are now looking at AI with regards to privacy laws. In addition, at the US Federal Government level the conversation is coming up more and more how to regulate AI so that it is not a free-for-all, especially in relation to the protection of consumer rights.

Can AI improve human service?

Millions of people, both within the contact center and outside of it, are terrified that AI is coming for their jobs, that AI can do everything they can do, quicker, cheaper and better. But if we look at it from the other side, we see mundane tasks being taken over by AI, leaving human brains to focus their power elsewhere. This could improve efficiency in multiple ways.

If AI were to take over the more mundane tasks in the CX space, it could free up the better, more sophisticated agents to provide for the more complicated transactions or the transactions where a human connection is more appreciated.

What AI can also do is be a tool for CX agents – an AI program can instantly collect and access a customer’s information, along with solutions and options to solve their problem, reducing the stress placed on the agent and reducing customer talk time. It benefits everyone, and this is just one simple example of how AI and people can work together. It does to a degree pave a path to where the role of a contact center agent is more valued as a career option because the focus greatly increases to the role of the agent being skilled, intelligent, empowered and capable. Ultimately, I believe that AI should always be used to support humans in their role, to ensure that the end result is better than the sum of its parts. We also need to remember that AI systems will always need a human to prompt them, to make sure that what they deliver is accurate and the service they deliver reaches the levels necessary.

The Pros and Cons of AI


Efficiency: AI can perform repetitive tasks faster and more accurately than humans, leading to increased productivity and efficiency.

24/7 Availability: AI systems can operate continuously, without the need for breaks or sleep, providing round-the-clock services.

Data Analysis: AI can analyze vast amounts of data quickly, helping businesses make data-driven decisions and uncover valuable insights.

Cost Reduction: In the long term, AI can reduce labor costs by automating tasks, and it can also minimize errors, which can be costly to correct.

Personalization: AI can tailor experiences, recommendations, and products to individual preferences, enhancing user satisfaction.

Predictive Analytics: AI can forecast trends, patterns and potential issues, aiding in proactive problem-solving and decision-making.

Job Displacement: Automation and AI can lead to job losses, potentially exacerbating unemployment and inequality.

Bias and Fairness: AI algorithms may inherit biases from their training data, leading to unfair or discriminatory outcomes.

Privacy Concerns: AI systems often require access to personal data, raising privacy and security issues if mishandled.

Lack of Creativity: AI lacks creativity and may struggle with tasks that require abstract thinking, innovation, or emotional intelligence.

Dependency: Over-reliance on AI can reduce human skills and decision-making capabilities, potentially causing problems when AI systems fail or make errors.

Initial Costs: Developing and implementing AI systems can be expensive, particularly for small businesses or underdeveloped regions.

Complexity: AI systems can be difficult to understand, leading to a lack of transparency and trust in their decisions.

Security Risks: AI systems can be vulnerable to attacks and hacking, posing risks to critical infrastructure and sensitive data.

Find the Right Partner

While ChatGPT and its friends have made AI the overwhelming buzzword of the day, we need to remember that AI hasn’t just happened. It has been around for years and has been used in the CX space for almost as long. AI is established in the industry, it is here to stay, and we need to embrace it,  or risk being made obsolete.

There will be the temptation for CX companies to simply buy in AI software and integrate it into their existing operations to make sure they’re not left behind, probably hoping to overcome teething issues and bugs on the way. The result will almost certainly be lost efficiencies and client frustration, as AI fails to fulfil the promises made.

The answer is to look for a partner that has experience in being just that, a true partner that will develop an AI and Contact Center journey with you. Ignition CX is exactly that kind of partner that looks to partner with you on your desired outcomes and journey.

In my nearly 25 years as a contact center executive, I have seen trends, ideas and so on come and go. While some worked out great, many did not pan out well. In my opinion, AI is poised to be hands down the most revolutionary thing that the contact center industry has seen since the invention of the phone itself. The opportunity is filled with opportunity for advanced customer satisfaction, for companies and brands to find further efficiency and cost savings for profitability of the business. Whether it does or not, depends on how AI is used, how it is rolled out and who companies partner with to accomplish this.