The future is intelligent – Is AI the new customer service?


By Jason Maynard, director of data and analytics, Zendesk.

This article is brought to you by Retail Technology Review: The future is intelligent – Is AI the new customer service?.

We are in a new age of digital customer service where on-demand help is expected 24/7, 365 days a year but does your self-service support live up to this demand?

Understanding consumer behaviour, and needs, has always been central to providing a high standard of customer service. This is often measured by how close a company can get to the consumer. With face-to-face interactions, it's easy to interpret the motivations of the consumer. Over the phone and online chat, it can be challenging. On a website which isn't enabled with any degree of intelligence, it's virtually impossible.

With the expectation that information should be easily accessed online, there is a growing dislike for the need to connect with live customer support for simple matters. In fact, Forrester reports that 76% of customers prefer self-service support, so providing customers with the option of serving themselves means you're also improving the customer experience for those that want to self-serve. The obvious advantage of AI customer service is that it can increase the speed and timeliness of service, with technological advances encouraging the expectation of 'always on, immediately answered' service.

However customers shouldn't be restricted when it comes to the service they receive. It doesn't have to be an either or situation with AI and human interaction. If organisations remove personal connections, they risk damaging customer relationships. AI doesn't yet have the ability to understand human emotions, tone and sentiment of a human conversation.

What is clear is that technology in business is here to stay and that for simple interactions customers appear willing to sacrifice human interaction for convenience and ease. Chatbots and other artificial intelligence platforms like virtual assistants continue to become more proficient at dealing with enquiries, and in some cases pre-empting customer enquiries with proactive communication.

Ultimately, businesses need to ensure they are providing the kind of service that their consumers need or want, offering as many options for engagement as possible. There is no one size fits all for customer service, or any single platform that works for every customer, and businesses should enable consumers to choose the option they feel is best for them.

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