We’ve spoken before about the enormous and rapid developments that have taken shape in the past 9-12 months partly as a result of ‘forced-by-circumstance’ accelerated transformation. Health and fitness clubs diversifying into online classes, boutique eateries becoming Uber Eats favorites, or artisan alcohol manufacturers transforming into hand sanitizer distributors — it’s been interesting to observe.
So, we all agree that change has happened. And, that whatever cat is out of the bag isn’t going back inside. However, it isn’t just diversified offerings and digitalization practices that have occurred. Another, more lineal and foreseen (but nevertheless still fascinating) revolution is taking place in customer service — namely the role of artificial intelligence.
In this post we examine the latest market and technology trends shaping the adoption of AI for customer service — and redefining how businesses and consumers interact in a post-pandemic world. Let’s dive in…
‘Your customers’ lives are digital, but your service is analog’
It’s a great quote from McKinsey, but it doesn’t just sound good — it’s a wholly accurate statement to levy at businesses who just won’t adapt despite having the means to do so. The digitization of customer service has been a strategic imperative for a long time now, and proper AI implementation looks set to become the next benchmark.
Once only seen in science fiction, and often with a dystopian bent, AI that knows your purchase history and predicts what you want next is now an expectation. And it doesn’t end with the ‘purchase’ stage of the customer lifecycle. Consumers today expect sleek, personalized customer service too.
Their relationships with retailers, banks, restaurants — almost every commercial organization they do business with — are built on a digital, personalized foundation. In a 24/7 digital economy, they want to connect when they want, how they want — seamlessly across any device. Customers want their product questions answered, account issues addressed, and appointments rescheduled quickly and without fuss.
A decade in the making
The absolute mainstreaming of digitally native companies like Spotify and Uber that have been able — since their inception — to deliver a streamlined experience for digital consumers, means non-native companies cannot continue to regard customer service as a somewhat secondary focal point.
Indeed, if we do take a few steps back we see that quite a few established companies who built their service offerings on top of, or alongside, more traditional channels often find it hard to meet the same standards as their digitally native disrupter counterparts. Of course, for some companies, there’s a disconnect between the goal of exceeding customer expectations and the capabilities of their customer support function to meet it. It’s the commonly found chasm between desire and ability.
As a case in point, according to Intercom’s 2021 Customer Support Trends Report, 73% of support leaders said they’ve seen increasing customer expectations during the pandemic, yet only 42% believe they’re meeting those expectations.
Enter: AI for customer service
Take a few steps back into the present, and we can see that advancements in AI and machine learning are “enabling deeper levels of customer engagement and service than ever before”, says Jayesh Govindarajan, vice president of AI and machine learning at Salesforce. According to the Intercom study cited earlier, to meet ever-rising expectations, support leaders plan to invest in conversational AI support capabilities in 2021. It’s expected this will help teams bridge the gap between what customers want and what support teams can realistically deliver.
Powerful (and trainable) algorithms can sift through lots and lots of data and learn patterns to automate and assist customer service processes. Govindajaran continues, “… this technology is changing the face of customer service and helping organizations understand customers’ needs — often before they even do — providing the service they need at the right moment”. Indeed, it would appear that the business case for best-in-class customer service is compelling. Let’s look a little closer.
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