Today’s customer service is ill-equipped to handle the toughest interactions—ones that happen quickly, are often emotional, and carry very high stakes for your company. Enter artificial intelligence, a technology that, oddly enough, promises to personalize those interactions more than a human alone ever could.
Here’s an example:
You and your colleague are flying from London to San Francisco and miss your connection in New York. You both need to rebook, and you get to the counter at JFK at the same time but there’s only one seat left. Who gets it?
Whoever doesn’t get the seat will remember that interaction for a long time, so the airline had better make the right call, based on sound business logic. Yet as things now stand, that decision more often than not rests in the hands of a front-line employee who has about 15 seconds to make the call, with very little visibility into which passenger is the more loyal, valuable customer.
Maybe the ticket agent knows one of you has a higher status. But maybe that’s just this year, and it’s a fluke because of schedules. Or maybe the agent considers one of you to be more polite or factors in any number of other intangibles that don’t have any bearing on how much you mean long term to the airline.
Wouldn’t it be better if AI-assisted agents, or chatbots powered by AI’s natural language processing, could render informed decisions—and do so in a matter of milliseconds? The beauty of AI is its ability to capture and analyze enormous amounts of relevant data to identify, even anticipate customer problems and offer solutions, as well as determine customer preferences and suggest personalized offers.
Back to our airline example. That other customer who doesn’t get the seat is still going to be upset, but less so if an AI-based data analysis instantly renders an alternative offer, perhaps even a personalized one.
But the story doesn’t end there. AI keeps learning—and this continuous learning is what makes it different from analytical approaches that have come before it. AI can keep assessing the value of those two customers and keep comparing them to similar customers, determining if you made the best alternative offer. Should you have offered a more generous travel voucher to that bumped customer, or would that passenger have been even happier and stayed more loyal with a lower-cost, redeem-on-the-spot food voucher?
Higher-Level Relationship Building
Customers will never again have to deal with the, “Who are you? Can you repeat your account number? What’s your problem?” All of those basic interactions will get automated as we move forward. Meanwhile, instead of having to do low-level, transactional support work, the best front-line employees can spend their time solving customers’ most difficult problems and figuring out better ways to serve them.
Companies need AI-driven automation because the massive volumes of data they have about their customers, and the possible ways to use the insights buried in that data, are beyond people’s processing ability—especially given customer expectations for near-real-time responses. If a shopping algorithm can know you’re looking for a new pair of running shoes, why can’t gate agents know which passenger to put in the last seat?
How long will it take before companies entrust AI to help them with customer interactions and decisions? Chatbots employed by US utility Exelon, Indian appliance maker Bajaj Electricals, University of Adelaide in Australia, and a variety of other enterprises already are having natural back-and-forth conversations with customers, presenting them with a much better experience than simplistic, automated phone systems that follow a script.
I have predicted that about 85% of companies’ interactions with their customers will be automated by 2025. It may come even sooner, as the technology gets better with each passing month.
The advantage of AI not only is that it constantly learns, but it also never forgets. As the technology matures and comes built into customer service as well as sales, marketing, and commerce applications, it will become the main way customers engage with companies.
AI doesn’t replace the need for terrific people in customer service. But soon your people and company won’t be able to deliver great customer service without it.