Credit by Daniel Newman
We all know that artificial intelligence is playing a huge role in how businesses operate. AI programs and services are helping transform everything from data collection and processing in the marketing department to on-boarding in the HR department. While AI and automation hold tremendous value in terms of time and cost savings internally, there is another area in which AI promises even bigger, more meaningful returns: customer experience. As I’ve said many times before, customer experience is the root of digital transformation. Every tech decision we make should return to this core foundation. With massive growth in data, comes opportunity to utilize the data for machine learning and AI that can improve everyday experiences for customers. It’s also important to note that good AI has to start with the right data coupled with sound data science practice or the results can be less than impressive. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the five biggest ways AI is transforming the customer experience.
By far, one of my favorite aspects of AI is that it eliminates the need to wait “on hold” for the next available agent to help me with a simple problem with my bill, product, or service. AI has changed all of that by allowing companies to use chatbots and virtual assistants to answer common customer service questions, allowing customers to get in and out in a jiffy. Back in 2011, Gartner predicted that by 2020, 85 percent of customer relationships will be managed without human interaction. I’m thinking that number might hit 90% by the time we hit the turn of the decade. The first thing I do when I hit a snag on most websites is search for the “chat now” button. Yes, I know I will most likely be talking to a robot. But, as long as they answer my question quickly, I’ll leave a happy customer.
Sure, I know some of you are probably thinking that chatbots aren’t completely effective just yet, and you’re definitely right. But I would argue that for the most part chatbots are doing enough to solve little problems for customers. This frees up customer service reps to work on the more difficult issues.
Another important way AI is transforming the customer experience is by providing personalized content. This is an era when we rarely need to search for the products that would make our lives easier. It’s so easy now to find a recommendation based on your past history. I’m talking recommended videos and movies on YouTube and Netflix; recommended music on Spotify; recommended TV shows on Hulu; recommended concerts and performances on Bands in Town; and recommended products on Amazon. AI is essentially putting “in the know” hipsters out of business by bringing any and all content to the forefront. This is an age where everyone knows everything relevant to their needs and wants. AI is also finding its way into the cloud where companies are putting their data lakes to glean faster insights from data and analytics. Azure and AWS , for instance, both offer deep expertise in building applications around AI. This enables companies to scale their AI capabilities quickly leveraging capabilities and experience from the leaders in public cloud.
In addition to personalized recommendations, companies are also turning to AI services to help develop personalized content. I’m much more likely to buy from a company that has taken the time, or has a used a program, to get to know me. I like when my marketing messages are targeted directly to me. Yes there are some issues with privacy, but for the most part I’m satisfied with what I’ve experienced.
Another bonus of AI: it never needs to sleep. Similar to empowering customers via self-service, AI is also allowing customers to have 24/7 support—something most companies would not be able to afford or staff in the age of old. What’s more, 24/7 support isn’t just “good CX”—it’s table stakes in today’s market. Most customers are not willing to wait until you open your doors to get answers to their biggest account questions. AI makes that possible.
Allowing for automated life assistance.
Most of us use Alexa to turn on music or dim the lights. But more and more, companies are using Alexa, Google Home and other robotic AI to make their customers’ lives easier. Banks, for instance, are linking with Alexa and Google Home to allow customers to schedule transfers and bill-pay. Stores are allowing them to order products by voice. Movie theaters can allow them to purchase tickets, select seats, and pre-order popcorn before they even leave the driveway—without even hopping on their smart phones. These are the ways AI is transforming the customer experience, and these use cases will only continue to grow as AI expands outward.
Providing “happy” customer service agents.
Let’s face it: it’s impossible for customer service people to be “on” all the time. Most of us have had some bad encountered that probably led us to “quit” whatever company we were communicating with at the time. The benefit of AI, however, is that it doesn’t get upset. Although it has the power to learn emotional intelligence, it doesn’t get bothered like we as humans do. That gives companies peace of mind that their agents will always be kind and accommodating—and their customers will always leave with a smile on their faces.
A Note on Privacy and AI.
There has been a lot of recent coverage on data privacy and AI will only increase privacy concerns. This past week, news broke that Amazon had live personnel listening to recordings from Echo devices. This activity struck fear in many people’s minds, however, for AI to work, there is considerable training required. Meaning Amazon was taking the steps to improve their AI, but concurrently, many didn’t realize that their conversations could be used for training. (It’s also important to note that these conversations are anonymized) I believe companies have to consider to be steadfast in considering the data that they are collecting and utilizing for machine learning and AI projects. It is customer data that enables the most fluid and meaningful experiences, however, there is a rising expectation of consumers that companies are being more transparent with their data collection, storage, security and usage habits.
Of course, all of the above ways AI is transforming the customer experience are best-case scenarios. The entire point of using AI to improve the customer experience is to help your customers feel known and valued. Bad AI will have the opposite result every time. All of us reading this article have likely encountered a bad AI experience—AI that didn’t dig deep enough into our personal data storehouses, didn’t use the right algorithm, or didn’t have the right “emotional intelligence” controls. In those situations, AI does have the capacity to make things worse for your company. That’s why, to cap this off, I give one important caveat: test, re-test, and test again—from the customers’ viewpoint—all of the AI you put into place. The only thing worse than not using AI for CX today is using it poorly.