AI alone will not fix bad customer service

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With AI becoming more mainstream, we’re at the stage now where organizations are actively starting to experiment and identify ways it could help them to improve customer engagement.

Recent research carried out by Twilio has revealed that 79% of UK IT teams are actively implementing AI to varying degrees, or are in the advanced stages of planning for its adoption. But as with all new technology, it’s easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing.

Rushing to invest and make moves can seem appealing if competitors are doing it, but without a clear sense of how AI could help with broader business goals – and crucially, helping them meet customer needs better – outcomes will be mixed at best.

Customer-centric AI can be a game changer

Unsurprisingly, given so many are either actively implementing it, or planning for its adoption, a majority of IT decision makers agree AI is a game changer for better relationships with their customers. More than four in five (86%) believe it could bring them closer to their customers and help them better address their unique needs. Its ability to analyze as well as apply context and prior learnings is genuinely game-changing for customer service and engagement at scale.

Businesses can create smoother customer journeys by using tools like AI-powered chatbots (54%) that IT decision makers highlighted as the biggest benefit of this advanced technology. These chatbots can help lighten the load for human agents by resolving simple but often time-consuming tasks, leaving human agents to deal with more complex queries.

Sam Richardson

CX Consultant, Twilio.

The first chatbots on the market were meant to achieve this, and whilst they did have some impact, they were also a major source of frustration. Natural language and generative bots should be much better at this, although they will still need careful monitoring and nurturing.

As conversations and engagements take place, AI will also play a role by automatically creating, updating, and drawing on customer profiles to learn from past interactions. Incorporating chatbots can help agents triage queries based on urgency, redirect customers to other resources, and source answers more quickly, as well as re-route calls and enquiries to where they might be better resolved.

Brands can also harness AI to improve how they personalize each interaction with every customer. Working with large amounts of data, AI can near-instantly draw from relevant context and past activity to offer solutions tailored to the individual and situation, reducing friction and increasing sales opportunities. In fact, the right AI tools can act more like an individual sales person for each customer by offering a truly unique experience for each person at a scale which was previously unthinkable.

Businesses can leverage the history they’ve built up of their customers through their previous purchases, interactions, and preferences to use these insights to serve them more effectively, eliminating situations like asking customers for information more than once, or long delays for responses. Leading companies are those that are wholly oriented around their customers, their needs and pain points – and they’re leveraging AI to do this.

With AI able to provide a more sophisticated customer experience by streamlining processes and speeding up decision making, it can play an important role in fueling growth and innovation for businesses. This is captured in Twilio’s State of Customer Engagement Report, which found that eight out of 10 companies that invested in customer engagement were able to meet their financial goals. If implemented correctly to prioritize the customer, brands will be able to experience higher revenues, greater customer loyalty, and a better return on investment.

Balancing technology and customer outcomes

While the benefits of AI might be clear, being able to realize them in practice is another matter. Investing in new technology in isolation will have limited effects without having a wider strategy for what the business would like to achieve with it. Twilio’s research found nearly half of the organizations surveyed (44%) start with their technology first and look for ways to use it, with just 34% starting with customer outcomes first, before then looking at the technology they could use to achieve them. Businesses must continually see AI and other emerging technologies in terms of what it could do for their customers, rather than making investments simply to keep up with competitors.

For example, the power of AI is limited without the associated data and processes in place to fully put it to work. Having a strong foundation of accurate, regularly updated first-party data for it to work with is essential. It’s only then that it becomes possible to fully realize the technology’s potential.

As consumers become increasingly receptive to the idea of companies using AI to improve their experiences, businesses must understand the evolution in the way they use technology is ultimately about helping them meet customer needs more effectively. AI allows businesses to treat every customer as if they have a physical employee dedicated to their needs, which is truly game-changing – but only if it’s underpinned by a solid data foundation, and a clear strategy on what ‘good’ looks like.

AI alone will not fix bad customer service. To truly transform customer experiences, there needs to be strong alignment across strategy, technology, operations and customer needs. This will ultimately make sure any investment in AI drives revenue growth and helps companies meet their financial goals.

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Sam Richardson, CX Consultant, Twilio.