Guest article by Khanh Le, Laszlo Sajtos, and Werner H. Kunz

A New Future of Service Delivery

The integration of generative AI is transforming the service industry and revolutionizing customer service. This integration is making customer service more personalized, efficient, and accessible. To achieve this, digital employees (DEs), such as AI-driven chatbots, are increasingly being used in the service industry. This has led to frontline human employees (HEs) working with digital agents to serve customers. In order to understand how customers perceive this collaboration, we have initiated a research project. The first publications from this project can be found here and here and more is in the pipeline.  Based on our work, we want to use this article to highlight some of the main findings so far.

Communicating Collaborative Cues is essential to enhancing Service Satisfaction.

Effective collaboration between humans and digital employees largely depends on clear communication of task coordination, such as indicating the handover of tasks from human to digital employees, and team objective signals, such as explaining the goals of human and digital teamwork. When these are communicated effectively, team unity and service process fluency are perceived as significantly more positive, and these perceptions significantly enhance customer satisfaction provided by a hybrid team of human and digital employees. Our work shows that signaling task coordination and team objectives are crucial in forming customer impressions, highlighting the importance of strategic communication of collaborative cues between human and digital employees.

We also found that customers prefer interactions that involve collaboration between humans and digital workers, rather than setups that involve either augmentation or replacement. This is because customers value the transparency provided by collaborative signals. Therefore, pure AI-based self-service may not always be the best way to provide service nowadays. Human employees and a mixed hybrid team of humans and digital employees will play an important role in the future of service companies. This transparency is also a significant driver of customer satisfaction and acceptance of the cooperation. It provides valuable insights for businesses looking to incorporate digital assistants into their service operations.

How to Capitalize on Human Digital Collaboration in Service Provision

Our research sheds light on how effectively communicating the collaboration between health and design experts can significantly enhance customer experiences. To turn this into actionable insights for managers and practitioners we see the following options.

Showcasing HE-DE Collaboration: To signal the collaborative efforts of HEs and DEs, firms can adopt two primary approaches: task-based and entity-based collaborative cues.

Task-based cues involve documenting and communicating each step taken by the service team to the customers, so that they can keep track of the interactions between the service employee and the chatbot. A well-articulated communication to customers, outlining the roles, responsibilities, and information flow within the HE-DE team, can significantly contribute to a smoother service experience. AiChat, a DE solution provider, is an example of such a service that ensures customers are informed when their requests transition from a DE to an HE, ensuring transparency and continuity.

Entity-based collaborative cues: In addition to the ways in which services are carried out, working together towards a common goal can show customers that the HE-DE service team is committed to helping them. Our research found that a simple statement about this shared commitment can improve customers’ perceptions of the team’s unity and the smoothness of the service process.

The Importance of Process Transparency:

Our research has revealed that transparency plays a crucial role in the service process. To ensure transparency, it is recommended that customers receive a detailed summary of their interactions at the end of each service session. This summary should include all relevant information discussed during the conversation with the service team. Providing customers with this summary will enable them to access important information when needed easily.

The Road Ahead

Our recent research has brought attention to the critical importance of effectively showcasing to customers the collaborative efforts between human and digital employees or HE-DE. As businesses continue to progress, they must navigate through the challenges and opportunities that arise from this collaboration. This involves not only adopting advanced technologies but also fostering an environment where both human and digital employees can work together seamlessly and productively. By highlighting the collaborative nature of HE-DE interactions, we can significantly enhance the customer experience and set a new standard for service excellence in the digital age.

In this constantly evolving landscape, the potential for working alongside machines extends beyond mere operational efficiency, as it can redefine the very essence of teamwork and customer engagement. Going forward, the integration of human creativity and digital intelligence will play a vital role in shaping the future of service provision, which promises to usher in an era of unparalleled innovation, customer engagement, and business growth.

Khanh Le
Lecturer in Marketing
Lancaster University Management School (LUMS)

Laszlo Sajtos
Professor of Marketing
University of Auckland Business School

Werner Kunz
Professor of Marketing – University of Massachusetts Boston
Director of the digital media lab

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Khanh Le
Lecturer in Marketing
Lancaster University Management School (LUMS)