You have ordered a new pair of running shoes (physical fitness is important after all). As usual, you receive an order confirmation in your inbox. You open up the email but then realize that you accidentally ordered the wrong size. What’s worse, you’ve entered the wrong shipping address! You rush back to the website to try and change the order before it ships out. The Customer Service Live Chat window pops up. “Hi! My name is Pedro. How may I assist you?” You explain the situation to Pedro. “Sure, I’d be happy to help you change your order and shipping information. One moment please.” In a manner of seconds, everything is updated and your new running shoes are on the way to your doorstep.
That entire customer experience was fast, easy, and simple. Moreover, Pedro was courteous and the utmost professional. One detail though – Pedro isn’t real; he is (or it is) a virtual customer agent or “chatbot.”
A new form of customer experience
Increasingly, companies are transforming their customer experiences with new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, and machine learning, making everything more self-service by design. But, while there is less interaction happening with human customer service agents, the customer experience isn’t any “less human.”
Through breakthroughs in natural language processing (NLP), a person can communicate with a chatbot as they normally would, and the system can understand and respond just like a well-trained agent. Even better, it can process information, find solutions to problems, and fulfill requests far faster than humanly possible.
As a system interacts with customers over time, machine learning enables it to become smarter and actually predict and anticipate potential customer issues. These elements all make for a much greater experience. Customers can get what they want done, all on their own, and quickly, which leads to better retention and profitability.
The future of humans and customer experience
As customer interaction introduces more AI, where will humans fit in this new self-service world? This was one of the main questions asked during a recent Gartner webinar, “The Core of Great Customer Experience: Humans or AI?” presented by Michael Maoz, vice president and distinguished analyst.
During the webinar, Maoz shared the following predictions for customer interactions and AI:
- By 2022, 72 percent of customer interactions will involve an emerging technology like machine learning or chatbots.
- By 2021, 15 percent of customer service interactions will be completely done through AI.
- Phone-based communication will drop from 41 percent to 12 percent.
So, yes – AI and chatbots will replace humans on a lot of customer interactions – namely the less sophisticated ones such as reorders, order confirmations, product information inquiries, user authentication, password resets, order cancelations, account activations, and account status updates. It’s an inevitable and quickly approaching reality. But, where humans won’t be replaced are the interactions that still cannot be easily automated. These are the areas where people still surpass machines, i.e., where decisions are made using sound judgement, analysis, industry experience, and acquired knowledge of the business and customers.
In fact, one of the great benefits to AI is that it can free people up to better serve customers on these more complex interactions, rather than get bogged down by constant, repetitive account inquiries and order cancelations. Moreover, AI can be applied to support customer service agents in their interactions with customers, such as with knowledge management, understanding the context of a customer’s problem, and determining the next-best action for a customer. For instance, just as Netflix collects data on members’ viewing tastes to recommend additional content to keep them engaged, AI can provide support agents with recommendations for what a customer would want or need based on past behavior. In banking, if a customer repeatedly withdraws money to a dangerously low balance, the system can note to the agent to recommend overdraft protection to the customer.
The future of customer service will be this blend of AI for customer self-service, human customer service agents, and AI to help agents in their interactions with customers. The result is a much easier, faster, and smarter customer experience. It is up to each company to evaluate and identify the interactions and touchpoints where it can get the most out of highly intelligent self-service versus a real, human agent.