Innovative AI Will Deliver Great Service

Remember hearing your grandparents or great-grandparents tell stories about walking uphill both ways (figure that one out) to attend school? School buses came along and took care of that challenge, and in their day, were a sign of progress. The pace of innovation is increasing at a rate that is overwhelming, although I think we're going to skip the phase where robots fight for world domination.

When it comes to customer service (and most everything else, for that matter) there is a great deal of talk and buzz about artificial intelligence (AI), machine leaning, and natural language processing/natural language understanding (NLP/NLU). While much of what we hear and read today is noise, this won't be the case for long, and the world of customer service and contact centers will be major beneficiaries of these new technologies.

Companies invest millions to deliver what they believe will be outstanding customer service. More often than not, these companies do not have a handle on what a good customer experience is for most of their customers, as everyone has different needs. Developing standard personas and trying to force all customers into these five or six categories is as outdated and ineffective as the horse and buggy are as a performance vehicle.

Companies collect massive amounts of data about their customers. They survey customers without constraint (or even an awareness or care for how annoying this is). They invest in dozens of systems, from the automatic call distributor (ACD) or dialer (which are still being used, despite claims to the contrary), and dozens of other applications, all for the sake of trying to figure out how to deliver an outstanding experience cost-effectively so that customers will keep coming back.

The objectives for most companies are noble, and everyone from the CEO to the newly minted digital transformation executives are committed to delivering an outstanding customer journey at every step of the way. (Five years ago, a majority of CXOs were mostly paying lip service to this objective.) The challenge is that they have many systems and tools to help them and provide a great deal of information, but they lack a centralized mechanism for figuring out how to use the data. Despite their investments and the resources dedicated to figuring out how to deliver an outstanding experience, most executives are struggling to figure out which system and information to use to lead the decision-making. Is it the input from the survey solution? Near-real-time feedback from speech and text analytics? The big data that marketing provides about prior purchases? The steps and process customers/prospects follow as they transition from their initial search to the point of acquisition? Or is it all of the above? Executives know that to win, they need to deliver an outstanding and personalized customer experience to each and every one of their customers and prospects, but they need an automated process for making service decisions. And as if that weren't complicated enough, it's unlikely that they can follow the same decision-making process for each customer and prospect.

This is about to change, and AI, machine learning, and NLU/NLP are going to lead the charge, but they are not going to replace all of these solutions and human input. Let's put this into perspective: people program AI-based solutions, and the technologies themselves are not going to take over the world. What they are going to do is play an important role in figuring out what customers, prospects, and partners want and need from a company during each touch, which will enable the organization to deliver the right experience for each individual.

Artificial intelligence, which will mature greatly in the next 10 to 20 years, will be running the central control center and will be the mastermind behind the curtain, much like that oldie but goodie, the Wizard of Oz. The AI brain will assess the situation and decide which systems, tools and processes need to fire to enable the company to take the ideal action for each contact. And that decision will change on the fly based on all types of internal and external inputs. (This is very different from what happens today when feedback from multiple operating systems sometimes contradicts rules and recommendations coming from other solutions.)

In a growing number of situations, some form of self-service will be the answer, as consumer preference for this channel is continuing to grow. However, the AI-based control system is going to deliver a personalized set of options for each person who reaches out, and self-service is going to look different (and much better) from what is available today. There are also going to be situations where the AI-based control mechanism is going to deliver an interaction to a live agent or subject matter expert who is best positioned to assist the customer.

It's not a question of whether or not this will happen, but instead when it will occur. This technology revolution is good for customers/prospects, their companies, productivity, and the economy in general. It's a situation where most everyone wins, although AI is not going to be perfect. People will still need to program these solutions and oversee the machine learning that will continuously improve the results. Over time, the benefits of AI and related technologies are going to get better and better.

Donna Fluss, president of DMG Consulting, is an expert on contact centers, analytics, and back-office technology. She has 30 years of experience helping organizations build contact centers and back-office operating environments and assisting vendors to deliver competitive solutions. She can be reached at

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Posted August 24, 2018