AI Helps You Get Closer to Your Customers

No matter how embedded your company is in your customers' lives, competitive offerings are only a click away, and your customers will leave you if you don't meet their expectations. We all know that differentiated service underpins customer centricity and, ultimately, top-line revenue growth.

At a recent conference, I heard Aaron Thomann, executive IT leader at GE Healthcare, say that customer service is the longest relationship that customers have with a company. It's true. Great service has a lasting effect: Consumers purchase products from companies that offer good service, and, as a result, these companies command price premiums.

Many companies to which I speak to are starting on their artificial intelligence journey. AI will never replace your agents. Today, it will help you augment your workforce. AI will enhance their skills and allow them to move beyond routine tasks, like collecting and reporting information, to customer interactions requiring deeper insight and analysis.

AI will eventually impact all customer service jobs. AI will handle more of the routine tasks, with agents handling the harder stuff, like exceptions and escalations. Agents will have to be higher skilled, better trained, and better compensated. Lower-tiered agents will be repurposed to manage automation, for example, supervising the learning of chatbots or creating self-service content. New jobs, such as conversational designers to script automated dialogs, data scientists, and engineers to implement and tune AI algorithms, will also emerge.

So, what can AI do today for your customer service operations beyond helping make you more efficient and productive? Here are two examples:

  • AI improves outcomes across the entire customer lifecycle. Don't think about customer service only as issue resolution after a purchase. Customer service delivers value at key points along a customer journey, like during phases that are traditionally the domain of marketing and sales. If, for example, you engage with your customers at the right point in their buying journey, as determined by AI, to educate and inform them, your customers will be more confident about their purchase and you will see less returns. Targeted AI-driven onboarding activities, like customer education, feature discovery, and in-product guidance, help take the customer through the first critical steps to success, which ends up minimizing churn.
  • AI makes customer experiences more personalized: Reactive, rules-based service interactions that tailor to broad customer segments don't serve anyone very well. The level of personalization that you need to deliver a differentiated customer experience requires intent, context, and history, which are core elements for AI-fueled interactions. United Airlines, for example, greets customers calling into its IVR with personalized and contextual treatments: "Hi Joan, I see you were on trying to book a flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. Is that what you are calling about?"

AI promises to change our world in customer service. But, as with any technology endeavor, be disciplined about your approach. Figure out your business case, the metrics you want to affect, and start small. AI brings a lot of goodness to the table; you just need to figure out how and when to use it in your operations.

Kate Leggett is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.