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Alan Sebrell, senior manager of the ecommerce team at Amtrak, was looking for a tool that could help the company address one of its biggest customer self-service strategy initiatives: How do you allow customers to find the information they need and perform simple tasks without having to involve the time and expense of customer service agents?

“We wanted the tool enable customers to get to the answers and tasks they want more quickly,” Sebrell says.

And, he says, that’s one of the biggest promises of AI customer service tools. While wild-eyed alarmists point to an increase in the number of jobs being taken over by AI and robots, such as on factory floors in China, the real, and broadest, power of AI lies in its being a tool that actually relieves humans of the high-waste menial tasks that can make a job miserable, and that make companies start to nervously eye their bottom lines.

“With artificial intelligence, human emulation technology, and natural language processing you can serve thousands of customers at once with a virtual agent that’s on the clock 24/7,” Sebrell says. “They can work across different channels. When you train them, they don’t forget training whereas humans might.”

With carefully trained AI tools, they’ve found that they’ve been able to reduce costs and unnecessary escalation to some of their higher-cost distribution channels.

“We wanted our contacts and our agents to focus on the high revenue generating functions — completing a transaction, not having to answer a call from people that are saying, ‘Hey, can you tell me about your refund policy or about your pet policy?’” Sebrell explains. “It’s not replacing physical human beings, it’s about complementing them, so that those agents could be tasked to do more higher revenue generating things, versus answering some of the lower level questions that could have been just answered directly on your website without being escalated to a contact center agent.”

The technology has become increasingly easier to implement and configure, but Sebrell notes that it’s not necessary to swat a fly with a sledgehammer. Classic customer service strategies shouldn’t be discarded and replaced with bots — there are a number of cost-effective ways to help customers assist themselves, including help sections, FAQs, robust search abilities or contact forms.

“Part of your customer service strategy should be really understanding that you don’t necessarily have to replace one with the other, but figure out when is the right time to use each one,” Sebrell says. “We use all three at Amtrak.”

Their first win was helping customers find more accurate information and accomplish tasks faster, but down the road, the company wants to expand its customer service capabilities using AI as the tools evolve.

“You can also leverage the tool to identify new revenue opportunities and learn about what’s on the mind of customers that are using these tools, because they’ll provide all kinds of feedback,” he explains. “When you analyze the interactions that these humans are having with your tool and the feedback and those conversation streams, that data can provide insight: the insight that can help you improve your processes, and insight that can help you deliver ideas for new products.”

For more about the AI legends and the AI realities, a breakdown of the potential that AI has for your bottom line, and a glimpse of the future of AI for business, don’t miss this VB Live event!

Register now for free!

In this VB Live event, you’ll explore:

  • Myths and realities of AI replacing vs. augmenting staff functions
  • How to bake AI into your business strategy
  • On- and offline use cases for AI
  • The future of AI for business


  • Avinash Gangadharan, Sr Director of Engineering, Walmart
  • Allen Sebrell, Senior Manager E-Commerce Team, Amtrak
  • Deep Varma, VP of Engineering, Trulia
  • Stewart Rogers, Director of Marketing Technology, Venturebeat
  • Rachael Brownell, Moderator, VentureBeat