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How Artificial Intelligence Shapes Modern Help Desks

Artificial intelligence may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, but the real-life applications of this technology are much more mundane. We interact with AI nearly every day in the form of virtual assistants like Siri and Cortana, facial and voice recognition software, and tools like the autocorrect function in a word processor.

As this technology becomes more and more accessible, IT help desk and service desk teams use artificial intelligence to serve their internal and external clients  faster and with more precision. Nothing will replace good, old-fashioned human support agents — people still often prefer to speak to a human being than a robot. The point isn’t to phase out humans from the help desk altogether, but rather to use AI to assist teams, allowing them to take on more work with fewer resources.

One of the most popular forms of artificial intelligence used in IT is the virtual support agent or chatbot. Many software solutions offer chatbot functionality, providing help desk teams with the tools to automatically screen and assign service requests, answer simple questions, and direct users to self-service tools like a knowledge base without needing to put an agent online to actively respond. These tools often allow teams to pre-program questions to gather information (such as “What is your name?”), as well as branching decision trees to help direct users to the proper channels (“Is it a problem with your phone or computer?”).

Some more sophisticated chatbots and virtual support agents go one step further and use a variation of machine learning called natural language processing (NLP) to analyze submissions from end users and “learn” how to respond in certain situations. While a pre-programmed chatbot may display an error message if a user inputs an unknown command, a bot that utilizes NLP can be “trained” over the course of multiple interactions to understand context and respond with more organic answers. Over time, these bots can learn to have almost human-like conversations as they direct chatters to the information they’re looking for — and as technology continues to improve, their response capabilities are growing more and more sophisticated.

Help and service desk teams are often stretched thin as they handle tech problems, manage company assets, repair hardware, and more. Artificial intelligence in the form of chatbots and virtual support agents can offload some of that strain and stress, giving precious time back to staff members and automating key parts of the support process so end users can get help more quickly. Even for large-scale teams with dozens or hundreds of agents, AI can help handle those first few steps of gathering basic information from users before routing them to a human being who can take care of their problem. The technology will never replace the expertise and experience of a real human agent, but when used in the right way, it can certainly be a powerful assistant.