AI: Turning Customer Service Into A Function Customers Don’t Hate

In the past decade, companies have been striving to make service experiences faster, easier, and more customer-centric. But despite investments in different technologies promising to make broad service transformations, achieving superior customer service still isn't easy. With shifting customer preferences and increasing demands, customer service seems to be riddled with more complexity than ever.

A prime example of this can be seen in the airline industry. Many companies have been increasing their investments in digital channels, such as chatbots, but customers are still unhappier than ever. In September, the U.S. Department of Transportation released its Air Travel Consumer Report, noting a significant volume of airline service complaints. Technology alone isn't causing the service frustrations, but there is clearly a disconnect between investments and results.

Customer plights are telling us that customer service is still hard to get right. Despite all the promising technologies out there, without a thoughtful approach and the right implementation, you'll be right back where you started. And with warm-weather destination vacations and spring breaks coming up, there's going to be a lot of air travel, which will unfortunately bring more customer complaints. A surge in demand can create serious problems across travelers' experiences, disrupting trips and causing long-term damage to brand perception. The most important thing airlines can do to avoid delivering poor experiences to customers is to provide fast and satisfactory resolutions to as many customers as possible.

The good news is that with advancements in artificial intelligence and automation, along with the right strategic approach, there is an opportunity to catalyze service models that make a positive impact.

Here's how airlines and any other company in the service industry can adapt and adjust to help create better service experiences for the ultimate benefit of everyone.

Setting the Stage

Arming agents with all the tools they need to address customer problems is critical. If a customer calls in with a flight issue, especially during times when you anticipate an influx of issues and complaints, agents need the right technology at their fingertips at any given moment to do their jobs more efficiently. Similarly, you need to make sure you have intelligent self-service that can solve common customer requests as fast and effectively as possible.

However, instead of falling into the trap of focusing on individual support channels, implementing a channel-agnostic strategy allows you to create more holistic customer journeys. Focusing on overall outcomes vs. individual channels means you can build logic once and activate across each of your channels to create consistent experiences no matter how a customer is contacting you. With this approach, customers can easily resolve certain issues without ever having to escalate to an agent. The agents' time is then freed up for the most sensitive and critical requests, and hold times are reduced for customers who actually need to speak with a human.

With this type of strategy in place, it is possible for airlines and any other service-related industry to get ahead of service requests or even proactively resolve potential issues before they ever arise. For customer service, advances in AI and automation serve as pivotal tools to mitigate issues and triage customer complaints while building brand loyalty. Within the past 18 months, there's been an incredible rise in generative AI solutions, the sophistication of which could enable service teams to minimize costs while quickly resolving issues. The ability of airlines to guide customers to these AI-backed channels could make or break peak travel seasons for many.

AI as the intelligent force behind self-service

While it might feel like self-service is passing the buck to the customer, surges in contact volume put a strain on your workforce, and a majority customers want the ability to quickly resolve issues on their own. If customers are met with an intelligent chatbot or generative-AI powered assistant that can provide concise, contextual answers without the need of an agent, the necessity to uplevel the conversation to a human can be done only when it is critical. Why is this important? It saves customers time and leads them to a solution quickly, while saving airline service employees time so they can focus on more complex requests.

Self-service is the entrance to the customer service journey, so it is imperative that your tools are not only easy to find on your website or within an application, but also sophisticated enough to quickly recall customer information, provide detailed solutions and, if no solution can be found, seamlessly connect the customer with their next-best option, such as a human agent who understands the full context of the issue. Self-service today is not the self-service of five years ago. AI capabilities have dramatically improved the speed and intelligence in which customers can source their own answers to resolve issues. Companies need to make sure their self-service solutions are as sophisticated and effective as they can be to retain customers.

Just as important as providing robust, self-service experiences is providing human agents with the tools to do their jobs in the best way possible. Agent turnover is at an all-time high, which should not come as a surprise. Agents have pressures to get up to speed more quickly and are typically interacting with customers when they're already irritated. Not only that, many times these employees are working with a messy, complicated desktop as they toggle between screens to get the answers they need. This takes far too much time and leaves both the customer and the agent extremely frustrated.

In comes the magic of AI and automation, which can help agents surface information more quickly and accurately so they can respond to customers efficiently. They can help provide prompts based on what customers are saying in real time and can track customers' context so agents have the full picture of the individual's experience with the company. Additionally, generative AI can summarize interactions, provide recommendations, and even simulate live customer interactions for better training. By making their jobs easier to do, agents can in turn provide even better experiences that help create lifelong, loyal customers.

Airlines are just one example of how AI can be deployed to address the demand of customer service, both helping create more robust self-service channels and making every agent your best agent. Industries like retail, telecom, and insurance face similar challenges as the airline industry in that they can experience high demand at certain times and have a history of burdensome customer service. AI, when implemented correctly and strategically, is the antidote to creating more happy customers in less time, saving costs down the line—a win-win for everyone.

Rebecca Miller is a senior product strategy manager at Pega.