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What does AI mean for customer relationships? Three key focus areas

Artificial Intelligence (AI) arguably first hit the mainstream following the release of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 epic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, businesses are still only just starting to open their eyes to the advantages AI can bring, both from their own point of view and for customers. Amid all the hype, however, some fear that AI could lead to job losses and spell the end of the human touch in industries that have traditionally relied on rapport, such as retail and hospitality.

AI may seem like a daunting new frontier for businesses, but it is no longer a discussion limited exclusively to a tech elite. The potential benefits for companies in many different business arenas, and their customers, are huge. It might seem a daunting prospect when thinking about what AI could mean for your brand, but it can be broken down into three key areas:

AI’s impact on business

A brand will enjoy several benefits internally if it begins to use artificial intelligence in digital customer engagement. With AI platforms constantly analysing huge amounts of data, you are able to pull out live customer data and adapt strategy accordingly. This allows you to make on-the-spot decisions in real-time.

As AI becomes more sophisticated, with more data creating an ever-evolving platform, it will have greater awareness of customer needs. Using retail as an example, it will be able to offer customers additional items to compliment a purchase with greater intelligence than ever before.

In the longer term, AI will yield financial benefits. For instance, developing a chatbot to deal with customers’ online queries will massively cut costs by providing the support that many customers require without the need to train up enough front-line workers to deal with every single query immediately. In terms of staff, AI also has the potential to lighten workloads (and ultimately relieve agent stress levels!) by detecting problems as they occur. Saving the time that is often spent gathering information related to problems and how they have occurred, AI will increasingly leave agents free to use their time more efficiently and more productively.

AI’s impact on your customers

Similarly, there are many advantages of chatbots in customer care for the consumer. AI can streamline the process, and bring a truly omnichannel customer experience by making sure customers waste less time being bounced from department to department, platform to platform, and frustratingly having to explain their problem multiple times. Imagine how great it would be for a customer to be able to pick up their phone, explain a problem and not have to go through the painful process of stating basic pieces of information. AI will pick up basic details, such as location and correspondence history, meaning the agent can get to work solving the issue sooner.

As AI has access to the entirety of each customer’s correspondence, problems and complaints should not be replicated if they have been encountered before. This will help to build a customer-centric approach, with loyalty being reciprocated by the customer.

AI as part of a wider omnichannel customer service

Although it is clear that AI can be a great aide to business and customers, many people have reservations about the use of chatbots in customer care. A well-executed, well-manned omnichannel platform can alleviate many of these concerns, with customer history still being made available in real time to all operatives, and data analytics still being used to create smarter decisions.

Hi-tech solutions can still be used in conjunction with human interaction – unlike the plot of the aforementioned 2001: A Space Odyssey humans and robots are able to co-exist in a mutually beneficial relationship. This is one where empathy and efficiency are key, and may ultimately yield better results.

For instance, much of the time the automated services we are starting to see proliferate in customer care are unable to fully address a complaint, meaning that there will always be a need for a person at the other end of the line.

The results of a recent Forrester report warned that AI will eliminate 6% of all jobs in the US by 2021, with customer experience looking particularly vulnerable. However, fears of a complete takeover are unwarranted. We have shown above that AI can be beneficial to both a company and its customers. It is also important to remember that AI’s impact will be most effective when working in conjunction with humans. Striking the right balance is vital, with AI emerging as a real asset alongside human operators.