AI's Increasing Role In Customer Service


Customer experience should always be a top focus for any business. Keeping existing customers happy gives businesses a much better return than having to constantly find new customers. Continual advancements in technology are giving companies additional tools and resources to transform customer service interactions, providing better response times and increased quality of interaction. Increasingly, artificial intelligence is helping companies improve customer service, improve customer loyalty and brand reputation, and enable employees to focus on higher value tasks that provide greater returns. As AI is increasingly adopted, the potential impacts to customer service are announcing themselves in surprisingly useful ways. 

Improved Customer Satisfaction

The use of bots as customer service agents capable of handling many tasks is revolutionizing the relationships between companies and their clients. From handling various tasks, troubleshooting, or interacting with potential customers, companies are finding much value from AI powered bots. AI powered chatbots are capable of helping many customers 24/7 without the need for an actual human employee. Because of this, AI-enabled chatbots are increasingly being used as the front-line of customer engagement. Using chatbots as a first interaction can help identify consumer needs in a way that can easily identify problems that are more complex and ensure that the correct people are looking at them. 

AI powered bots can proactively start conversations with customers, provide relevant information and help with each touch point throughout the entire customer lifecycle. This allows customers to get the answers that they need, when they want it, without having to wait on hold for an employee to become available, which can drastically improve time to resolution and customer satisfaction. 

Additionally, chatbots can transfer a caller to a customer service agent if a human is needed in the loop. This increases productivity and enables agents to only handle the more complex cases, instead of dealing with mundane or easily answered questions, such as package tracking info, store hours or return policies. The fact that customers can get their questions answered without the need for a human employee is beneficial not only because of how much time it can save customers, but also because it allows them to have a positive and seamless experience with a company or because of group that they are working with. Chatbots are also increasingly being used to replace human customer support staff. Since chatbots provide a consistent, always-positive interaction with customers and round-the-clock support and service when human assistants are not available, it makes a lot of sense to have them always available. The relatively low cost of chatbot implementation compared to human customer support makes them attractive to many companies.

Customizing the User Experience

Beyond the use of chatbots, AI is proving to be incredibly useful when it comes to customizing user experiences. Companies like Netflix and Amazon are currently using AI to analyze customer data and tailor products to their users. Originally, recommendations were based off general categories such as Top 10 lists or generally popular items. The introduction of AI to this process has dramatically improved recommendation engines. Rather than a system identifying that someone bought a product in a specific category and then offering them further things based off of that category, AI is capable of analyzing data sets and adapting in real time to offer products or services that match specific needs rather than basic categories. 

Since AI can pull data from several sources, it allows machines to factor in details like geographical location, weather, events, or personal preferences and display the most relevant content to customers. As companies continue to generate more comprehensive customer profiles to better understand each individual customer, they can more specifically focus on specific customer needs, personal buying behaviors, as well as preferred channels of interaction; tailored content can be delivered to customers at the exact right time and through the most appropriate channels.  ​​​​​​

Starbucks for example is being very smart about their use of AI. Using detailed profiles, they can customize interactions with customers and provide a more positive customer experience. In 2016, Starbucks changed their rewards system from a visits-based program to a spend-based program. As part of the new offer system, Starbucks was able to move from pushing 30 variations of email offers every few weeks to over 400,000 highly personalized variants per week. These more personalized interactions increased customer engagement and drove up sales. It’s also allowed the company to have deeper research into the popularity of products, insight into how different locations are performing and labor optimization for anticipated customer flows. This all goes to keeping customers satisfied.

Privacy Concerns

Of course, whenever companies are using customer data there are concerns over data tracking and privacy. Customers want relevant content, and are willing to hand over a certain level of data to get that however, when have brands gone too far? Some who think brands already have too much information about their customers and their buying behaviors raise concerns.

There is always the potential for the abuse of any sort of system that tracks and collects data, but the benefits of getting quick and easy resolutions to problems and getting perfectly tailored offers that suit your specific lifestyle makes it easy to see why these AI systems are gaining in popularity by companies. In the future, we can look forward to enjoying the convenience of a fully customizable, always available user experience with our favorite businesses and groups.

Kathleen Walch, columnist, is Co-Founder, Senior Analyst at Cognilytica. Kathleen is a serial entrepreneur, savvy marketer, AI and Machine Learning expert, and tech industry connector. She is a senior analyst and founder of Cognilytica, an AI research and advisory firm, and co-host of the popular AI Today podcast.

Prior to her work at Cognilytica, Kathleen founded tech startup-up HourlyBee, an online scheduling system for home services where she quickly became an expert in grassroots marketing, networking, and employee management. Before that, Kathleen was a key part of the direct marketing operation for Harte Hanks managing large scale direct mail campaigns for clients including Bed Bath and Beyond and BuyBuyBaby. Managing mailings with millions of records each month, she created efficiencies in the process saving thousands of dollars and days of processing time from each campaign. Kathleen then spent many years as the Content and Innovation Director for TechBreakfast, the largest monthly morning tech meetup in the nation with over 50,000 members and 3000+ attendees at the monthly events across the US including Baltimore, DC, NY, Boston, Austin, Silicon Valley, Philadelphia, Raleigh and more. In addition she is a SXSW Innovation Awards Judge and AI / Hardware Meetup organizer.

As a master facilitator and connector, who is well connected in the technology industry, Kathleen
regularly meets with innovators in key markets and gets the opportunity to see the latest and newest technologies from game changing companies.

Kathleen graduated from Loyola University with a degree in Marketing. In her spare time she enjoys hanging out with her husband and two young girls and working out – you can frequently find her on jogging paths and workout studios.