[Tribune] Leveraging AI to provide a more human customer experience
Within a customer service department, artificial intelligence pinpoints the customers most likely to respond and allows back, middle and front office processes to be brought into line, according to Estelle Villard, vice-president and head of Medallia France.
Not long ago, listening to customers across all business interaction channels was an overwhelming task. However, by harnessing artificial intelligence (AI), and in particular deep learning, to study various experience data (direct or indirect customer feedback, digital engagement data, individual preferences, buying habits, etc.), it is much easier to detect patterns, predict behaviours and anticipate customer needs. This is thanks to AI's ability to analyse and interpret structured and unstructured data from fragmented channels in a manner that is beyond the reach of human beings. Moreover, it can do so in real time, allowing companies to make instant decisions based on the information obtained.
At a time of enforced digital transformation, business leaders are realising the necessity of deploying AI to speed up and optimise their day-to-day operations if they want to stay ahead of their competitors. Improving the customer experience is the main benefit of implementing it in business.
Deep learning can contribute to the rapid discovery of rich customer insights with minimal effort. For example, text analytics can be used to intelligently categorise survey results, social media comments, customer reviews. It can be used to effectively analyse customer feelings and even discover impact by theme. It prioritises unstructured data and helps companies prioritise enhancements to retain customers and reduce customer churn.
Using AI in this way turns qualitative analysis into quantitative science. Once structured, the information can be combined with operational and financial data to identify patterns, trends, risks and opportunities, just as other departments do with digital data.
The decline of face-to-face interactions despite customer preferences
Customer behaviour has changed significantly in the last year and companies have had to adapt to the mass shift to online interactions. We have all become accustomed to interacting via the internet and so it seems that this shift to digital, fuelled by the exponential growth of the global datasphere, is here to stay. Furthermore, while digital technologies will continue to grow, the human touch points available to customers will continue to shrink.
However, this trend runs counter to the regularly expressed preference of customers for a more human and personalised experience. When asked, customers may be reluctant to accept AI in their day-to-day interactions with brands, particularly when it replaces human contact. However, Gartner predicts that by 2022, 70% of customer interactions will involve emerging technologies such as machine learning applications, chatbots and mobile messaging, a significant increase from the 15% reported back in 2018.
AI can offer a more personalised experience
It may sound like a headache, but technology actually provides a solution. Effective customer strategy in the digital age is all about leveraging technology to deliver a more personalised experience. Even as face-to-face interactions decrease, AI makes it possible to pay attention to each individual customer to a degree that was previously unimaginable and to humanise digital customer contact processes.
Let's take the example of a call center. The combination of artificial and human intelligence can transform and personalize the customer experience. As one of the few channels through which consumers can interact with other human beings, the call center is typically where the most complex problems are solved (simple requests, such as a password reset, having already been transferred to online self-service). So it's important that any interaction with a call center goes smoothly.
Artificial intelligence can contribute to this. Chatbots, for example, are able to efficiently filter out customer challenges that can be solved with ease and speed without human thought. Smarter and more adaptable than FAQs, these bots can handle problems with minimal complexity while the customer retains the feeling of having received the personal attention they deserve. This frees up call center agents to handle more complex issues that require human intervention. In this way, AI can help humanize the ongoing digitalization that affects one of the main remaining touch points between companies and customers.
Using AI for empathy
While AI clearly has the ability to analyze masses of data to discover trends, its use goes far beyond that. There may be times when a customer hits a novel obstacle on their journey. While the problem may not be symptomatic of a larger trend, the moment should still be captured and analyzed to determine what went wrong. An individual customer is no less important than groups of customers. Effective experience management is about ensuring that each customer's problem is solved to their satisfaction.
These technologies can foster an empathetic approach to potential difficulties, which could lead to a negative customer experience, just like financial services. Banks are using AI to analyze behaviors to determine the best communication channels when it comes to collecting debts from customers. Most notably, the technology can identify which customers are most likely to respond when contacted by phone, email, or even social media.
Similarly, companies can intelligently identify customers who should be considered vulnerable, based on their demographics, age, account history and even speech patterns, to ensure that communications to them are tailored to their specific situation. The bank may even seek to make a personal connection by mimicking the customer's language, so that an automated process seems human to the customer.
The importance of providing a human customer experience in an increasingly digital world
The preference to be assisted by humans rather than machines is frequently cited by consumers. But what if AI itself can help deliver a more human customer experience? The incorporation of bots and other solutions for process alignment between back, middle and front office can transform customer services. Basically, technology holds a unique power to humanize. In an increasingly digital world, this is one way to continue to provide that all-important human customer experience.
Customer experience used to be an aspect that companies focused on during times of stability, and one of the first to fall off the agenda in times of crisis and budget cuts. These priorities have been quickly shifted. An AI-based customer experience strategy is proving valuable in the face of today's challenges. Moreover, it is essential to keep companies close to their customers, to show empathy, and to anticipate and satisfy consumer needs in an agile, customer-centric decision-making culture.