The High Powered Human Touch: AI and Customer Service

By James Johnson | 21 Aug 2017

Artificial intelligence is powering nearly every experience customers have to make it smarter, seamless and personalised, and as a result, consumer expectations are at an all-time high.

In retail today, all eyes are on the customer experience. It defines which companies are thriving, and which are struggling to compete. In the race to be the best, retailers are turning to new and emerging technology like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT) to get ahead.

Companies all over the world are using machines to interact with their customers at a level once only seen in science fiction movies. It’s reached all elements of a consumer’s life, from providing personalised product recommendations, proactively rerouting drivers in traffic, or automatically tagging people in photos.

The emergence of AI and automation is often portrayed by technology leaders such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates as the epic struggle between humans and machines, with dire predictions for jobs. There is another vision. One that showcases the possibility for AI to empower service teams to create even greater personalised experiences that have a human touch, at mass scale.

In an era of heightened customer demands, our recent State of Service report found high performing service teams are already looking to artificial intelligence to make customer service more human.

High performers are nearly four times more likely than their underperforming counterparts to say predictive intelligence will have a transformational impact on their customer service by 2020, and more than three quarters (77 percent) of top service teams excel at leveraging AI compared to 36 percent of underperformers.

The successful customer service teams of today are leveraging AI to gain real-time insights across all customer contact channels, using machine learning to automatically escalate customer cases. Astonishingly, machine-learning can even analyse a caller’s word choice to understand emotions and recommend the next best thing for an agent to say to each individual customer.

While consumers are empowered by technology, so are service teams – technology allows them to get to know customers just as effectively as if they called them for a chat, and far more efficiently. Used well, technology sees the customer service team cease to be a cost centre and instead become a driver of loyalty, advocacy and revenue.

Consumer Demand Fueling a New AI World Order

Our research found half of consumers (51 percent) expect companies will be able to solve their issues before they are even aware of a problem by 2020.

Consumers are increasingly demanding brands anticipate their needs more quickly and make relevant suggestions before they reach out. If consumers feel a brand isn’t meeting their needs, or making their life easier, they will move on. Seventy percent of consumers say that technology has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere.

To keep up with the evolving demands of consumers, retailers must transition into the emerging consumer-centric and AI-driven ecosystem. Today’s technology means customers will contact a brand how they want to, when they want to and for whatever they want to.

If brands want to build and maintain personal relationships between customers and brands, they need to be able to respond in the same manner.  Brands that integrate AI in their customer engagement strategy sooner will have a head start on how to serve tomorrow’s customers better.

IoT is the new service outlet

The Internet of Things (IoT) creates a whole new playground for service agents to connect with customers. The growing number of smart-devices, the data they produce, and the value of that data, makes IoT of keen interest to service leaders. From 2015 to 2016, service teams dialed up their IoT usage by 98 per cent.

The ability to address a customer’s issue before they’re even aware of a problem is a game changer, and the opportunities here with IoT service applications are endless. As an example, if a service agent had IoT data coming from a customer’s water filtration system, they’d know if the water pressure was too high and could alert the customer before it leaked in their home.

High performing customer service agents are also more than four times more likely than underperformers to say the IoT/connected products will have a transformational impact on their service organisation by 2020.

Rather than replace human contact altogether, AI improves the customer experience by adding human-like intelligence to interactions. Service teams are well-positioned to harness AI to adapt to increasing customer demands. While the concept of using technology to create more engaging customer service, might sound strange, that’s exactly the mindset of forward-thinking teams.

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