Don't let AI replace the human element

More and more companies are hopping on the AI chatbot bandwagon. You go to their website where there’s a near-immediate popup with a chat assistant.

But it’s not a human behind a computer screen on the other end. It’s just a chatbot that’s designed to provide an automated response based on what you input in the chat field. And sometimes it gives you the answer you’re looking for, and sometimes it doesn’t help at all.

For me, personally, most of the time, it’s the latter.

I was on my banking website the other day looking for a link to purchase checks, but no matter which drop-down menu I went to, I couldn’t find what I needed. So I opted for the online chat function. Now, I may live in a Podunk town where the small banks only recently moved from automated phone lines to online banking, but I have banked for years with a decent-sized bank that regularly invests in upgrading and innovating with technology. You would think I wouldn’t have an issue with such a simple task, but I still couldn’t find what I was searching for.

This isn’t a one-off. This happens more often than not with many different websites. And sometimes I can’t even find the option for an online chat.

It seems like every time I turn around, these companies are just trying to block me from accessing them, and it’s frustrating to say the least.

I’ve seen more trucking companies taking part in this trend, implementing their own chatbots – some aimed at drivers, some aimed at customers and some aimed at both. These same companies preach driver and customer satisfaction, and these AI engines are meant to improve upon that. But do they?

I commend the companies that are taking the lead on that front because they’re also taking the risk of frustrating drivers and customers in a highly competitive industry that is experiencing a shortage of workforce. Frustrated customers and drivers could easily choose a different company to work for or do business with.

AI isn’t perfect, and some engines are better than others. Some companies are building their own with their data, while others are using off-the-shelf solutions with more basic functions.

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Either way, it’s necessary for these companies to experiment with the AI so it can continuously learn and get better with responses.

Until those improvements are achieved, however, I think it’s still important to have that human element in place.

For larger trucking companies that have hundreds of drivers, an AI engine can be helpful in keeping the phone lines cleared for more complicated inquiries. But it’s important to maintain a personal connection with the drivers despite any technological advancements that can reduce back-office tasks. As we all know, drivers need to feel appreciated. So don’t look to AI to replace that element.

As it relates to customers, ensure your website offers easy access to contact information outside of a chatbot or automated phone line. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrolled to the bottom of a screen just to either A). find no contact information at all or B). find only a physical address or P.O. Box or sometimes an email address. At least include a phone number that offers the option to speak to a human. If your chatbot is more accessible, a good alternative that I’ve seen in very few cases is an option within the chatbot itself to reach someone directly.

Keep in mind, if someone is coming to the website, they’re most likely looking for contact information because the easily accessible information that the chatbot is programmed to offer isn’t what they’re looking for. They most likely have an oddball question that can’t be answered by a chatbot – and those types of questions will always exist and need a human for assistance.

Angel Coker Jones is a senior editor of Commercial Carrier Journal, covering the technology, safety and business segments. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and kayaking, horseback riding, foraging for medicinal plants and napping. She also enjoys traveling to new places to try local food, beer and wine. Reach her at [email protected].