How AI is already transforming customer service

Kate Leggett has some examples of areas where AI-driven customer service is delivering real results.

This article originally appeared in The Serve Issue, our October/November print edition of Marketing magazine.

Kate LeggettArtificial Intelligence (AI) improves the economics and capabilities of everything around us. Consumers are starting to expect intelligent experiences – personal, contextual to their immediate situation, and highly relevant – every time they interact with a company. Customer service interactions are no exception. In fact, four in 10 contact centre decision-makers are exploring using AI technologies to differentiate their service.

AI can assist agents in completing repetitive tasks, or even completely take these tasks over. Yet, instead of replacing humans entirely, AI will enhance agents’ skills and allow them to focus their attention beyond routine tasks. Agents instead will handle customer interactions that require deeper insight, and analysis. These interactions will often take longer to resolve and are opportunities to nurture profitable customer relationships, which are increasingly rare in a digital-first world.

 

AI for customer service will:

  • Deliver CX. Close to half of consumers already use intelligent assistants like Alexa, Siri and Cortana to sustain automated conversations. Intelligent agents for customer service will power single-purpose chatbots such as those used by Dutch airline KLM to communicate booking confirmations to virtual agents that embed deep learning. AI will make these conversations natural and effective, and will delight customers. They will anticipate needs based on discerned context, preferences and prior queries, while also delivering advice, resolutions, alerts and o offers. And they will become better over time.
  • Make operations smarter. AI will up-level contact centre operations, and streamline inquiry capture and resolution. It will extract useful information from voice and digital conversations and images, as well as machine-to-machine communications, to quickly surface trends in issues and customer sentiment that may affect customer retention and loyalty. It will schedule maintenance appointments and push fixes to connected devices. It will make field operations more efficient; for example, restocking parts based on needs, or intelligently optimising field resources to provide on-demand service.
  • Uncover new revenue streams and reinvent business models. AI can uncover patterns in large data sets that may reveal new insights that companies can use to create entirely new services for customers that can be monetised. Machine-learning algorithms used for business and customer intelligence find answers to questions that humans didn’t even know to ask.

Many will agree that AI today, as a technology, is still in its infancy. Yet even at this early stage, AI is having measurable impact on customer service, having started to deliver real results. For example:

 

AI-infused pre-sales customer service boosts conversion and revenue

Pre-sales customer service spans activities to support a customer before they make a purchase. Our data at Forrester shows that uncertainty inhibits purchase decisions – especially for online shoppers who buy products that they have never experienced in person. Many customers will abandon an online purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their most burning questions.

Customer service organisations can intervene in the customer journey via an invitation to chat or co-browse at points of struggle or abandonment, like during checkout, or session inactivity. They also intervene opportunistically at points in the journey best suited for customers to accept a coupon, an o er, or additional advice. They accomplish this via analytics; intent models determine the best outcomes and machine learning refines them over time.

Organisations can also recommend personalised cross- sell or upsells. They use predictive models and machine learning to target customers based on buying propensity, demographics and psychographics.

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AI-infused onboarding increases customer engagement

We know that properly onboarded customers are less likely to churn and more likely to purchase additional products, boosting their average lifetime value.

Organisations must invest in customer education, feature discovery and in-product guidance, as these activities take the customer through the first critical steps to success.

Organisations apply AI capabilities for onboarding activities such as customer activation, tracking a customer’s health and predicting customer satisfaction. In fact, they are starting to use real-time satisfaction predictors for incoming incidents to identify in-flight issues and customers who need immediate attention. They use algorithms that calculate satisfaction scores from attributes such as wait times, reply times, incident details and effort metrics, and then decide on what escalation actions to take if they receive poor scores.

 

AI-infused post-sales customer service builds trust

Thirty-seven percent of Australian consumers say that customer service greatly influences consumer choices of products and services. Smart companies turn aftersales service into competitive advantage, applying AI capabilities for a range of activities that span search and knowledge discovery, automating conversations via chatbots, automatic case classification that can shave off tens of seconds of call wrap-up time and contact routing.

They use robotic process automation (RPA) to automate process steps or even entire end-to-end processes, such as account onboarding or insurance claims, with humans typically only managing exceptions.

In fact, AI has found great success in field service operations. AI-infused field service technologies build models to calculate the time for each technician to complete a job based on skill, personal aptitude and historical performance. They then optimise scheduling and resource utilisation to assign the right field service worker to the right job and ensure that they have the relevant information and appropriate tools when heading into the field.

AI is a journey. You can start small, and use AI to increase efficiency and reduce friction in the customer journey. As you move up the maturity curve, AI-fuelled engagement can enhance customer engagement, allow you to take proactive action and even pre-empt the need for customer service.

 

Kate Leggett is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. Forrester is a Marketing content partner, a leading organisation with which we collaborate to bring exclusive content to readers.

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