How AI Can Enhance the Customer Experience

In 2020, we saw traditional, in-person customer experiences dramatically shift due to the pandemic. Companies adapted by leaning into virtual tools and relying more heavily on advanced technologies to connect and engage with customers than ever before. In fact, Accenture's recent Business Futures 2021: Signals of Change research found that businesses are doubling down on virtual, with 88 percent of organizations investing in technologies to create virtual?environments.

What's exciting is that digital transformation is evolving at a rapid pace, enriching businesses' capabilities and significantly enhancing customer interactions. According to IDC, spending on AI systems is projected to hit more than $110 billion in 2024, up from about $50 billion this year. From supporting sales, customer care, or operations journeys, organizations must consider how they can deliver the seamless experiences customers crave and how AI can facilitate this. Across industries, AI can play a valuable role in helping organizations deliver exceptional experiences, from supporting sales to customer care to operations journeys, and ultimately, to drive profits.

Enable Proactive Engagement

Keenly understanding consumer behavior is crucial when companies craft, tailor, and optimize their customer experiences, particularly in digital and virtual environments. Companies that understand the benefits of AI are better able to predict and anticipate services, needs, or products desired by customers. AI is integral here because it can learn and understand individual behaviors and consequently implement appropriate business tactics, resulting in a positive and unique customer experience.

Beyond understanding customers' motivations and purchasing drivers, AI can augment customer service by eliminating extraneous interactions. In fact, a recent MIT Technology Review survey of business leaders found that customer service, such as chatbots, is the leading application of AI today.

Time-consuming, demanding customer service interactions, especially for crucial services like home repair frustrate both employees and customers, hindering productivity and, ultimately, harming the business' bottom line. Instead, companies can tap into AI, offering customers convenience and ease while also eliminating extraneous back and forth and mitigating associated costs. What's more, these mechanisms can help save money by avoiding unneeded in-person repairs. Meanwhile, organizations that fail to use this technology risk losing their customers to competitors.

Digitizing Personal Experiences

AI technologies enable more customized digital experiences by revolutionizing customer self-service in terms of sophistication, scale, and speed. Specifically, AI can equip digital customer service tools with the right skillsets to handle basic requests, like scheduling and messaging updates. Once companies have trained virtual agents to handle a set of questions or requests, that training can be repeated seamlessly across channels. This is crucial because customers across all industries have high expectations when it comes to service.

Further, in a recent HubSpot survey, more than half of respondents said the most frustrating aspect of customer service was the slow response time or waiting on hold. Today, 90 percent of consumers say getting an immediate response to a customer-service question is important or very important. Regardless of where a customer journey begins (perhaps at the Contact Us page of your website) or ends (maybe via Facebook or WhatsApp messaging) the quality of personal interactions with customer self-service tools matter and can have a substantial impact on revenue and a loyal customer base.

Empowering Human Interactions

AI is not a replacement for companies' greatest asset—its people. On the contrary, employees are rendered more important by the new technology. Companies must invest in and support their people to effectively train the complex machines that bring AI-powered experiences to life.

After all, people in the workforce are the ones at the front lines using machines to facilitate better, faster, and more satisfying interactions with customers and prospects. Nurturing these skillsets and combining forces with AI will ultimately shape a more fruitful CX.

Companies must support their people as AI implementation grows rapidly. A symbiotic relationship between business' workforce and its technology is crucial to scale quickly and intelligently. In fact, Stanford University's AI Index 2019 found that the speed of AI computation doubles every three months, further demonstrating the importance of a collaborative approach to AI.

In the end, close partnerships between humans and machines are paramount in delivering value for organizations. Businesses must ensure they are staying up to date on the latest AI developments while also training their people to work with emerging tech and enhancing their customer experiences.

Dawn Anderson is a senior managing director and global lead for customer strategy and consulting at Accenture.