Will AI be the Savior of the Customer Experience?

As AI, analytics and machine learning technology advances, providers will be looking to apply these technologies in other ways

Being able to focus on the facts fast and ensure no important details are missed greatly simplifies the conversation between the customer care agent and the customer. The customer does not need to explain information that the telecoms provider should already know about him, and the customer care agent can get straight to the point and find the best solution for the problem. In this scenario, AI has a clear benefit as it helps the provider appear informed and fast-tracks the solution that the customer seeks.

Other applications see AI-based automation being applied to handling very simple, repetitive customer tasks such as chatbot inquiries about minutes or data used, or straightforward account management tasks. This type of machine-learned predictive and autonomous customer care can save the customer valuable time since he doesn’t have to wait until the customer service agent is free to speak to him, and allows the provider to offer a further and more efficient communication channel as part of an omni-channel customer experience. After all, most customers want to save time and fix their problems quickly, so giving them additional automated channels for simple communication tasks makes perfect sense for both the provider and the customer.

However, the key here is that the robot needs to know when to hand the customer over to a human. Sometimes technology has to be overridden, and there will always be those more complex issues that are better managed by a person who can apply human wisdom and human experience to a problem. It's even better if that person is supported by AI technology and equipped with all the relevant facts. The process of handing over has to be entirely seamless for the customer, though – nothing is worse than the customer providing all the facts to a robot and then having to start explaining the problem all over again to the next person as he switches communication channels.

Of course, AI is getting better. As AI, analytics and machine learning technology advances, providers will be looking to apply these technologies in other ways too, increasingly using them to gauge customer sentiment, compare new problems to similar customer scenarios, and generate recommendations for each customer based on statistical learnings. Providers are already experimenting with AI on various levels including creating attractive marketing offers, establishing the best price plans for their customers, and answering simple structured questions automatically.

However, it is easy to get carried away with the possibilities that these new technologies bring. A high level of automation will only generate real benefits and value if it helps surprise and delight customers by providing them with relevant and attractive offers – and all this without appearing creepy. Furthermore, it would be foolish to ignore the risks that come with these technologies. Anything that is automated or machine-learned can also go wrong, causing the wrong message to be sent to the customer, or the right message to be sent at the wrong time. If not implemented carefully, there is a real danger that the provider could end up simply doing the wrong thing faster.

Caution is therefore necessary. Of course, innovation should not be stifled, but each step and new technology introduction must be assessed carefully for its accuracy and its value to the user, as well as its potential intrusiveness. The service provider’s primary objective in all this has to be to understand what the customer is trying to achieve and how they can help them do this better, more quickly or for cheaper.

The customer should be the focus at all times and from the customer’s perspective the technology should be flawless to the extent that it is unobtrusive. Customers don’t need to know what technology is being utilized when they interact with their provider. All they are interested in is that they are receiving excellent service and support for whatever it is they are trying to do, on whichever communication channel they choose.

It is also worth bearing in mind that customers have different needs and wants. While digital natives will probably embrace the opportunity to interact on automated channels, becoming too technology-oriented risks alienating those customers who are not ready for automated support, who find data analytics-enabled marketing communications intrusive or who simply prefer speaking to another human. Luckily, all of these preferences can co-exist happily. Service providers now have access to technology that enables increased automation with rich, individualized communications to meet the needs of the early adopters and Generation Y and Z customers, while at the same time continuing to provide traditional voice or web channels to those customers who prefer to interact in that way.

In the end, what it all comes down to is that customer communications are a very personal thing. The lasting impact of a poor customer experience is well documented. Providers should see the technologies, channels and methods available to them today not as selections, but rather as an arsenal of powerful tools with which they can build solutions to achieve customer delight.


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