How AI and support teams can divide and conquer customer challenges

A customer shopping online using her cell phone
(Image credit: Walmart)

When a customer reaches out for support on a product or service, it’s a crucial time for any business. Today, making those moments count isn’t as simple as answering a phone call or responding to an email. Effective customer success relies on using the very best tools and technologies - including AI - to help drive a seamless interaction that creates real value for the customer and the business.

This smart use of technology can make the difference between a customer becoming a promoter that goes out of their way to recommend a company, or turning tail to head to a competitor.

However, there’s also a balance to be struck. The best support teams thrive on human connections as customers desire meaningful, personal interactions. Offloading too much to automated responses or self-service help desk platforms can lead to unintended frustrations. To drive true value and impact, support teams and their AI helpers need to divide and conquer.

Chris Mills

Head of Customer Success, EMEA, Slack.

Identifying AI’s support role

To build an idea of AI’s role in the support team, let’s look at a couple of potential scenarios for an imaginary customer, Salim. He’s looking to renew a yearly coffee subscription using a giftcard from his aunt. In the first scenario, he calls the Quick Coffee Co and hits an automated, AI response. Unfortunately, there’s no option to use a giftcard over the phone, and the AI is unable to connect him with a real human. Online, he tries again, but hits another wall with an AI chatbot. Frustration builds, and eventually he gives up and looks for his caffeine hit elsewhere.

This is what happens when AI is used to replace humans or to try and offer shortcuts for businesses that fail to account for the complexity of delivering a great support service. In a different scenario, though, AI can play a crucial role behind the scenes while the real support team provides a personalized interaction.

In this alternate scenario, Salim hits the live chat app armed with his giftcard and is connected with a real person - Nuala. Nuala is able to set up his subscription there and then, take the gift card code, and before the call’s ended Salim has a confirmation message and knows he’s good to go with his morning brew safely secured.

While the experience has been seamless, Nuala was using an AI helper behind the scenes to keep things moving. She pulled up an instant recap on the giftcard process by using an AI assistant while Salim was on the line, kicked off an automatic workflow to create a new subscriber to the coffee package, and then shared all of this in a channel with her co-workers who can ask AI to recap what’s happened.

Rather than replace the human interactions that make support work stand out, Nuala was able to use AI to cut through the busywork, reduce admin, accelerate processes and find the information he needed to get Salim’s request on track. AI took on the tedious work, while Nuala stuck to the stuff that’s not only more enjoyable, but makes a real difference for the customer.

Building AI on a trusted foundation

Simply having an AI tool isn’t enough to deliver a great service. For customer-facing teams to make the most of the benefits of AI, like Nuala did, it also needs to be trustworthy and rooted in guidelines that keep sensitive information safe.

This is key, because today almost 50% of people don’t trust organizations to use AI ethically. Before embracing AI, support leaders should scrutinize tools and ensure there’s a trust-layer built in that ensures customer and company data will be protected.

It’s only with these assurances in place that customer support can start unlocking the benefits of generative AI tools. With protections verified, AI can draw on relevant content to provide helpful recaps on customer interactions, craft summaries of recent challenges, automate processes tied to CRM inputs and much more. And as AI and automation capabilities evolve, the efficiency gains for customer-facing teams will become exponential.

By taking the time to look into how solution providers are implementing AI and collaborating with partners in IT to ensure sensitive data is protected, customer support leaders can start weaving AI into their workflows with confidence.

Keeping the spotlight on human teams

There’s no doubt that interactions between people and AI tools are going to increase. Yet as the technology advances, organizations that focus on delivering a personalized, human, and empathetic experience using tools that respect data protection and privacy, are the ones that will flourish.

That doesn’t mean ignoring the progress and benefits that AI can offer, however. Instead, it means applying them safely, behind the scenes to build efficiencies - like automated processes and instant access to helpful customer information - just as Nuala did in her interaction with Salim. And while that work is being accelerated behind the curtain, support reps can remain where customers want them to be: center stage, and ready to help.

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