Customer support has never been much fun for any of the parties involved.
For customers, the speed and efficiency of the support they receive is judged on a scale that is unrelenting in its expectations of ever faster response times and increased effectiveness. And all too often, companies disappoint.
Because the pressure to meet these demands is intense, and because failure to do so is crippling to the bottom line. This isn’t an exaggeration: a 2014 study by Gartner found that 89% of businesses had already expected to be competing mainly on the basis of customer experience by 2016.
Tons of different ideas and methodologies have been suggested to try and ease the collective suffering. Expert strategies have run the gamut from esoteric solutions such as better strategic “vision” planning, all the way through to devising entire lists of acronyms describing new empirical metrics for measuring customer support success.
Many of these are helpful; none of them are a cure-all. And despite the urgency, no game plan seemed capable of drastically altering the incongruence between customer expectations and enterprise capabilities.
Cutting the Gordian Knot
Enter artificial intelligence (AI). AI has several characteristics that allow it to act as a bridge between customer expectations and business capabilities. It accomplishes this by automating functionality that results in mutually beneficial outcomes.
Let’s look at support response times. AI can be programed to recognize different behavioral patterns within a website or application that indicate a customer is in distress, triggering the provision of assistance before help is even requested.
This technology is known as pre-emptive action, and it benefits the customer for obvious reasons. But better yet, it offers huge benefits to businesses as well. Predictive AI support can decrease the use of human agent resources, improve overall customer satisfaction and decrease abandonment rates. Win-win.
Another area with huge potential is scalability. Customers are exasperated when customer support cannot answer their questions, but fast-growing companies often struggle to do just that. They simply can’t train enough human agents quickly enough to handle their fast growth.
AI eliminates this problem by resolving thousands of customer issues quickly without the need for human intervention. This makes it easy to manage a statistically significant increase in customers over a short period of time - without any decrease in the level of service being offered.
AI Has Changed the Customer Service Landscape
Support response times and scalability are just two of the problems that AI is already solving to make customer support better on both ends of the spectrum. Given the potential benefits, it’s no surprise that AI is already being used for customer support across many different industries.
On the front-end, AI is being used to completely eliminate the need for human interaction with customers. These front-end bots can hold life-like conversations with customers in order to assess their needs and find solutions quickly and easily.
But before we get carried away, it’s important to remember that not all customer issues can be resolved by front-end AI. Whether or not that will always be the case is an ongoing source of discussion, but the present trend to solve this matter of authenticity is to equip human agents with AI technologies to help them provide support. This is the case for example at KLM Airlines, for example, where AI filters Facebook support requests to the human agents best qualified to handle them.
What Will the Future Bring?
These are just some big picture realities of how AI is shaping customer support. But the list of technologies coming out of these principles is already long and ever-growing.
From increasingly sophisticated live chat options, to AI phone answering systems, even the possibility of augmented reality - the future is one of increasing levels of AI in customer support. It’s no longer a matter of when, but rather, how and how much.
Given that businesses are already saving $20 million a year from AI customer support - a number projected to grow to $8 billion by just 2022 - it’s safe to say that AI will be changing the support landscape for a very long time to come.