AI in Customer Service: Five Predictions for 2020

When people make buying decisions, the customer experience is now just as important as competitive pricing in determining when and where people click "Complete Purchase." In a recent survey of more than 700 consumers, we found that 82 percent of consumers say good customer service is important, and 82 percent have stopped doing business with at least one company based on bad customer service. Never before has customer service been a way to differentiate and capture market share.

To compete on customer service, companies have to cater to the stringent demands of the modern customer. Every part of our society is based on the idea of frictionless experiences and convenience. On our mobile devices, we have instant access to information, content, food delivery, and rides. Seamless experiences are a key fabric to our society. This holds true with what people expect for customer service.

As companies struggle to meet the expectations for quick and effortless support when volume and the number of channels also increases, companies are adopting artificial intelligence to work alongside human agents. Gartner predicts that by next year, 85 percent of customer service interactions will be powered by AI, and bots and natural language processing will save businesses approximately $8 billion annually by next year, according to Juniper Research.

Conversational AI has matured tremendously since first-generation chatbots. As we look into 2020, we're going to see the responsibility of virtual agents expand tremendously and continue to impact agents and support operations. Here's what's going to happen in AI in customer service in 2020:

Prediction #1: AI agents will become more accurate, driving up customer satisfaction. Many companies adopted chatbots early on, but these were met with backlash from consumers who were left frustrated with the limited capabilities. As a result, companies began deploying more advanced conversational AI agents capable of more naturally engaging in conversations. Another benefit of conversational AI is its ability to improve over time, learning from real interactions. In 2020, we're going to see conversational AI's ability to learn reach a threshold. AI agents will accurately resolve between 80 percent and 90 percentof text-based tickets within two years (currently some solutions are between 50 percent and 75 percent). WIth more accurate AI better able to interact in natural conversation and resolve tickets, customer satisfaction will rise substantially.

Prediction #2: Predictive customer support will become a reality. People have always had to reach out to companies when they had issues. In 2020, companies will start to fully take advantage of the data they have at their disposal to get out in front of issues and anticipate problems. Predictive care will be facilitated by AI-powered agents with the authority to act on contextual and profile data. For instance, an airline will be able to understand that a person is likely to miss her flight due to a traffic jam and security line congestion and preemptively rebook her on the next flight.

Prediction #3: The role of the customer service agent changes dramatically. In 2020, we're going to see customer service agent jobs change, not disappear. Companies will begin investing in higher-level technical and management training for customer service agents, as nearly 30 percent of current duties could be augmented with AI. Agents who used to answer repeatable queries throughout the day will monitor and manage virtual agents and focus on high-level and complex customer issues. As the customer service agent becomes a higher-level position, compensation will reflect that.

Prediction #4: Companies reinvest in email customer support. Email is the most popular digital channel for customer support, used by 54 percent of people in the past year. However, 62 percent of companies do not respond to customer service emails. While AI agents have typically been deployed on Facebook Messenger or website chat, companies will begin to introduce automation on email to increase customer satisfaction and decrease response time, which currently sits at more than 12 hours.

Prediction #5: Voice channels emerge as powerful support tools. While email will remain the most important channel, voice channels like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa will emerge as fun and engaging ways to offer customer support. Customers are using these channels at an astounding rate: Google Assistant alone entertains millions of people per day. WestJet is one company that is leveraging this captive audience. The Canadian airline launched its virtual agent Juliet on Google Assistant. Travelers can now get information related to flight status, baggage allowances, and required travel documentation without lifting a finger. There are very specific customer queries that work perfectly for voice channels, including troubleshooting, order status, and subscription modifications.

AI is going to continue to change the customer service operations of companies of all sizes in 2020. The rate of change is incredible and comes at a time when customer support has a bigger impact on company profits and customer bases. As AI advances, the impact on customer satisfaction will rise substantially.

Puneet Mehta is founder and CEO of Netomi, a provider of artificial intelligence for contact center operations.