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Conversational AI: An Introduction

Guest post by Nine Connections

Is Customer Service dead?

The other day, my 73-year old father, was grumbling about something he read in the news about automation of processes at the local bank.

“People don’t talk anymore. In my day, customer service meant talking to someone, saying hello, asking how your day was. Now it’s a recorded voice or reading tiny print online. Customer service is dead.”

That got me thinking. The role of a traditional customer service representative has evolved over the years. Once the domain of primarily the service and hospitality staff, the role of customers and our relationships with them has seen several costume changes — the phone IVR, surveys, forms, smiling uniformed people, you name it. But even as the modes change, the role of customer services and engagement has only just increased. Today customer relationships have become a full-fledged industry. 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. The more people feel they’re being listened to, the happier they are and the more money they’ll spend — or that’s the hope. An Adobe report even suggests that customer service can deliver a higher ROI than marketing. Customer service, once upon a time, used to be about happy people, lots of solicitous questions and a solution with a smile. While it’s certainly true that the human factor seems to have declined over the years, the key tenets of a human interaction customer service have remained — conversations, solutions and a smiling demeanor.

Related:
Woveon: Using AI to Create a Better Conversation with Your Customer

So can a bot — the latest entrant into the customer service role — actually deliver these admittedly-human qualities?

Chatbot as the perfect concierge

Businesses that recognize how much time consumers spend on messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and Slack have developed automated messaging technology. In 2015 messaging apps surpassed social networking apps, and chat apps have higher retention and usage rates than most mobile apps. Today, brands are looking at bots to become the next concierge, to understand what the customer wants, which direction they’re headed on, to involve them in interesting content, spread brand awareness and indeed, carry on conversations with a smile. But is all of that realistically possible?

On paper, it’s the perfect solution. Bots are machines, easily duplicated and incapable of human drama. They can be taught to function perfectly with a specific set of rules or through machine learning. These capabilities, limited as they are, can be trained to emulate the perfect customer service person’s skills — kindness, patience and solution-oriented. A machine can be taught to never be sarcastic and to always have a listening ear. And because it doesn’t have human failings such as fatigue or just being an asshole, it’s becoming an increasingly widespread phenomenon.

Any company with a chatbot interacting in the marketplace has the opportunity to gain valuable customer information. This has benefits in several areas — more personalization, targeted marketing, sales strategies as well as manpower allocation.

Not there yet

While bots were also a hot topic at the recent Corporate Social Media Summit, the jury were admittedly slightly skeptical. Bots are still very much in their nascent stage. And there have been several failures. In the rush to develop the next Siri or Cortana for their businesses, what most companies have ended up with are simplistic, underdeveloped tech with limited capabilities and faulty data. Of course there are the filthy people of the internet. It took less than 24 hours for Microsoft’s Tay to turn into into a filthy Nazi racist troll and two weeks for the cute little hitchbot to become roadside shrapnel. Even if the world were a perfect place, everyone was sunshine and unicorns and keeping empathy and other qualities aside, the actual functions and solutions given to customers by these bots need to work. That requires very skilled developers — but even they aren’t free of error.

Having said that, the possibilities for a bot are immense. Even though the big tech companies haven’t quite cracked how to make it work. Our co-founder Chris has a strong vision on the problems with Conversational AI, and perhaps more importantly — he offers solutions. He will share his vision 26th August on Startup Friday (still some spots left) and will start to share his vision in our blog series about Conversational AI that’s coming up here on Medium.

I know I will be paying attention. My own life have tons of bots — from the local Asian store from online magazines to Facebook to even my fitness wearable. Chatbots might very well be the face of the future one day. Now if they only knew how to smile.

Navigating Your Way Past The “Trough Of Disillusionment” For Artificial Intelligence In Customer Experience

Guest blog by Steve Nuttall

The hype around Artificial Intelligence technologies is at its peak. According to the 2017 Gartner Hype Cycle, emerging technologies such as deep learning, machine learning and virtual assistants are at the “peak of inflated expectation”. Cognitive expert advisors have passed this peak and are now descending towards the “trough of disillusionment”. This occurs when interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver.

emerging technology hype cycle gartner 2017

The benefits of AI for customer experience management are potentially game changing. AI has the capability to analyse vast amounts of data in real time from various sources, including human behaviours and emotions. Expectations are high because this capability can then be used to create seamless and personalised customer experiences that are optimised to the device and channel of choice.

Pragmatists and battle hardened cynics will recall that when automation was first introduced into customer service channels, the results were often spectacularly underwhelming. So, is the application of AI to customer experiences destined to fall into the trough of disillusionment before climbing the slope of enlightenment? Or is there a path to follow to avoid the pitfalls of unmet expectations?

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Intelligently using Artificial Intelligence for Customer Experience

In order to find out whether the application of AI to your business’ customer experience will take a downturn, it is necessary to first ask yourself: What is driving your organisation’s AI strategy? Is it because:

  • AI is all the rage in your industry and your organisation is fearful of being left behind?
  • If you take the lead in implementing AI, it will make you look smarter/cooler than your colleagues?
  • It sounds like a cool and fun toy to experiment with?
  • Your organisation needs to catch up with your competitors who have been early adopters of AI?
  • AI is a great opportunity to reduce the cost to serve our customers?

If the answer to any of the above is Yes, then the trough of disillusionment beckons.

Alternatively, if you are deploying or considering AI because…

AI can enable your people and optimise your processes to operate more intelligently and efficiently, in order to provide individualised and predictive experiences for your customers at scale

…..then a brighter future awaits.

For these technologies to have any chance of success you should have a clear sense of purpose of how to you intend to deploy AI to drive CX in your business. Here are three ways you can use AI in a purposeful way to create meaningful customer experiences.

1. Use AI to Enhance your Knowledge of the Customer

Customer Connection Web Diagram

An example would be using data analytics to anticipate the needs of individual customers at each moment of truth and key stage of their journey. Some specific examples oh how businesses are using AI to enhance customer knowledge:

2. Use AI to create stronger emotional connections with your customers

Using AI to recognise a customer’s emotional state helps agents better respond to the customer during an interaction, thereby creating stronger emotional connections.

3. Use AI to empower your service agents

artificial-intelligence-robot

Not only can AI empower agents with emotional intelligence to reply appropriately to customers, it can be used as a tool to connect service agents with the right information in the organisation’s knowledge base in real time. Examples of why this can be powerful to a business: 

A recent study Fifth Quadrant CX undertook for Oracle showed that CX leaders acknowledge the potential of AI and are more advanced in trialling and implementing these emerging technologies to enable better customer experiences. AI is being used to combine data from multiple sources to create individual profiles for each customer, enabling agents to take immediate action on what customers want. Consequently, CX Leaders are outperforming their counterparts by creating emotional connections with their customers through more predictive and personalised customer experiences.

As a result, nearly two thirds of CX leaders say their organisation’s revenue growth outperforms their industry counterparts, compared with only a quarter of CX laggards. The proof is therefore clearly in the pudding: when applied in a purposeful and meaningful way, AI technology can enable organisations to increase agility and overcome competitive threats and leverage this advantage to drive acquisition.

 

Steve Nuttal fifth quadrant customer experience head of researchWritten by Dr Steve Nuttall – Head Of CX Research, Fifth QuadrantSteve has worked in various leadership roles as a market research insights professional for over twenty years in Europe, Asia and Australia. He leads Fifth Quadrant’s program of CX strategy research and is an international speaker and presenter on best practice customer experience. Steve assists organisations to deliver their customer-centric strategies and business performance goals including designing and implementing programs to help optimise the customer experience.