One look at the big picture, and 2016 tells us that customer service is coming full circle. What started as a purely human-to-human interaction was revolutionized by so many advances in technology. And while computer applications have streamlined, simplified and even made customer service more intelligent, a robotic interaction can be inadequate by itself.

By combining artificial intelligence and human interaction, the most innovative companies in the world are changing the customer service game. The combination isn’t one-size-fits-all; every company must determine what works best for their customers. The first step is understanding the five terms that defined customer service in 2016.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence is the foundation of technology-driven customer service, among so many other incredible breakthroughs. AI gives computers the power to mimic intelligent human behavior, making a customer’s call to a support center less frustrating and more productive. Since the computer talks to you like a human would, it understands your language and your accent, not to mention the problem you’re calling about. From here, it provides smart solutions and suggestions.

Still, making that call can be a tedious process, which is why AI is revolutionary for text, chat and email customer service as well. The computer will be able to understand a customer’s question despite errors in grammar or spelling.

Bots

Those computer applications you call or send messages to are bots. Bots can perform simple, repetitive tasks in a fraction of the time that a human could. In the context of customer service, a bot can be both a timesaver and a deal breaker.

Bots can solve straightforward problems instantly. If the problem is more complex, bots collect the information that prepares a customer service rep to best help the customer. But what happens when a bot doesn’t understand your command? Or when you’re tired of hitting the digits that correspond to your query?

That’s where chat bots come in. Using artificial intelligence, chat bots can have a conversation with humans. It’s smarter than a regular bot, but is still simulated and therefore limited; it is not the same as human interaction.

Bionic Customer Service (BCS)

Bionic Customer Service considers both the human and AI advantages, and recognizes the power of putting them together. As Teckst Founder & CEO Matt Tumbleson puts it, “the perfect usage of bots is not to replace customer service agents, but rather to enhance them” (VentureBeat 2016).

Looking at bots as customer service support, as opposed to a human replacement, gives customers the best of both worlds. A customer service agent can use bots to quickly conduct searches and find solutions, all while chatting with a customer in real time.

Conversational Commerce

Some companies are leaving the bots behind and opting for a new-school approach to the original customer service method. Attributed to Uber’s Chris Messina, conversational commerce refers to customers directly interacting with businesses through messaging systems. This human-to-human interaction makes it easy for a customer to reach a representative and have a real time conversation over messaging apps including Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and SMS.

Cognitive Analytics

Computers are no longer just understanding data; they’re interpreting it. Cognitive analytics refers to the way today’s computers can think, just like humans do. This concept is the perfect segue into 2017, as we continue to grow and learn alongside technology.

As AI advances, the customer service industry will follow suit. It will also provide businesses with more options—therefore more combinations—of using AI and human interaction to provide unparalleled customer service.