As flexible work continues and customer expectations continue to rise, artificial intelligence (AI) can be a powerful ally in delivering successful customer and employee experience strategies. On one hand, this technology allows employees to be more productive in an all-digital, work-from-anywhere world and on the other, it frees up employees from repetitive processes, enabling them to slow down and focus on customers with empathy where they need it most.
Gautam Vasudev is VP of Digital Engagement and Omni Product Management for Service Cloud at Salesforce & John Kucera is Senior VP of Product Management at Salesforce.
The International Data Corp (IDC) predicts that global spending on AI will double over the next four years – reaching $110 billion in 2024 (up from $50 billion in 2020). AI is helping us to save time and boost productivity, freeing employees from repetitive work. With automation and AI - “intelligent automation” - we can solve numerous problems that neither companies or these technologies can tackle on their own.
The need for - and competitive advantage of - intelligent automation
In an all-digital world businesses need to adapt quickly to decentralized teams and changing customer behaviors. Where meal delivery services, for example, during the pandemic faced a significant rise in case volume, with AI-powered chatbots they managed to scale their customer services, helping customers track their orders, report issues and receive credits or refunds.
When entire workforces shifted to working from home, AI-powered recommendations helped IT departments support requests from teams, like requesting new equipment. Efficiently analyzing historical data allows IT teams to predict which type of equipment to deploy based on a user's parameters and needs. By using an automated workflow, items can be quickly shipped while the inventory system is updated.
AI is also giving businesses a competitive advantage. Take service teams, for instance. With the ability to see insights, key moments and trends highlighted in conversational and chat data, they’re better able to understand common and repetitive issues. In real-time, customer service agents can see suggested next best actions to facilitate solutions faster, and leaders can better understand trending areas that can be better handled by self-service articles or bots. For example, agents may be overwhelmed by address or billing change requests, so a team can decide to publish a self-service article or create a bot to handle these time consuming but simple issues. Integrating insights into action saves teams time and helps them make better decisions. It also allows them to use their skills more effectively to focus on more complicated cases, and to empathize with customers and build rapport.
AI and Automation are Critical to Creating a Digital HQ
Work has shifted from a place you go, to what you do. Today, every company must create its own digital HQ which connects its employees, customers, and partners. Automation is the key to enabling this work-from-anywhere operating model, automating how remote teams work together and how they interact with customers.
As a result, for business leaders, breaking down data management silos and point solutions are top of mind. They’re looking to AI and automation to scale and simplify data management across their organization.
Together, collaboration and data capabilities are making teams more agile and effective, helping them deliver greater value for customers and grow the business. With a single source of truth, service teams can better route issues to the right agent, understand the customer’s entire journey with the company, and hopefully solve the customer’s problem on the first call, without making the customer repeat their address, email, and problem to three different agents. If they’re lacking detail in a certain area, they can do that research directly from the platform.
Leveraging the power of automation speeds processes up further. Whether it’s time to pass off a customer case to a more experienced agent, or agents see in real-time a mass incident affecting a group of customers, like an outage, employees from various departments can automatically come together in one communicative channel. Automation can help gather the right contacts from legal, engineering, support and sales to all swarm on an issue and preemptively alert customers that they’re working on it to reduce additional tickets for a known problem.
Driving productivity, revenue, and redefining retention strategies
All employees want to know they’re making a difference. They don’t want to make their way through tens of systems and applications just to uncover what’s relevant for their work. At a time when employees are busier than ever - 35% of employees working remotely since the pandemic report working later than usual - simplifying and curating appropriate tools and making them readily accessible in one secure platform is crucial to ensuring teams are focusing on high value, high impact work.
Automation can play an integral role in helping to reduce the ‘work of work’ that teams and individuals grapple with on a daily basis - essentially removing the ‘paper cuts’ in manual work that slow down organizations. By removing mundane, repetitive processes and tasks automation can support every line of business in driving productivity as well as revenue.
Service teams in particular can see some of the greatest benefits of automation investments. Driving revenue both directly through cross-sells and upsells, and indirectly by increasing customer loyalty, these technologies are helping companies improve service levels while aligning to the increased customer expectations from the past couple of years. This includes automating scheduling resources, especially for field service teams, to optimize service and minimize travel times.
More strategically for organizations, with AI and automation freeing up their workforce from the repetitive work, leaders can help redefine retention strategies, by enabling employees to focus on personal and professional growth while still effectively carrying out their roles. Opening up their employees to act as ambassadors for the company, and provide great service to our customers, builds loyalty.
Now is the time to invest in customer relationships, and trust
The biggest misconception about AI and automation implementation is that it needs to be a top-down exercise involving big projects with big budgets. In reality, a bottom-up, empowered automation strategy can be just as transformational. Data and AI are no longer just for data scientists and data-savvy analysts, it is a team sport.
To build and deploy AI and automation with confidence in the eyes of employees and customers, businesses must have an ethical foundation. Prioritizing only productivity or measuring agents by metrics (such as customer sentiment) which they have little control over, will lead to burn out. By focusing on inclusive measures and ethical intent - such as augmenting agents and growing their personal skills, companies can implement AI in ways that benefit employees and in turn benefit customers.
As the digital economy evolves at pace, now is the time to invest in customer relationships, while empowering employees and increasing their workplace satisfaction. Together, intelligent automation frees up employees to do what humans do best – make decisions and build relationships. With consumer uncertainty at an all-time high, by ensuring accountability, transparency, and fairness in the ways they develop and deploy these technologies organizations can also earn trust.
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John Kucera is the Senior Vice President of Product Management at Salesforce.