Thanks to the explosion of communication platforms unleashed in the digital era, consumers are now using lots of different channels to engage with organisations. Unsurprisingly, many brands are facing an up-hill battle to deliver consistently great customer experiences across every channel.
Should they get it wrong, it can spell the death knell: 56 per cent of consumers have stopped doing business with a brand following just one bad customer service experience in the last 12 months.
To combat this, brands are exploring new ways to provide the personalisation, speed and responsiveness customers have increasingly come to expect. Many are investing in artificial intelligence (AI) in areas such as chatbots, virtual assistants and natural language processing, to augment existing teams and resources to deliver better customer support and experiences.
A disconnect between consumers and brands
There can be little doubt that AI is disrupting the customer service space, thanks to its capacity to multi-task and respond rapidly with automated responses and solutions. Indeed, if comprehensively embraced, AI can offer unquestionable reliability and flexibility to many facets of the customer experience, from reducing issue resolve time, to decreasing an agent’s workload, and making customers feel more valued.
However, a new report from Freshworks, ‘The Good, The Bot and The Customer Experience’ – which surveyed 6000 consumers and over 800 senior decision makers in customer service departments throughout the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands – found there is a significant disconnect between what customers expect and what brands think they are delivering.
92 per cent of consumers say they have been frustrated by customer service, whereas 66 per cent of European senior decision makers rated their customer service as ‘excellent’. This disconnect shows that while brands are starting to embrace AI, the technology has not yet delivered the positive experiences customers have come to expect. So, how brands can address this and improve their automated customer service?
As Adrian Swinscoe, an independent advisor, speaker and best-selling author on customer service, experience and engagement, highlights: “The introduction of AI simply to optimise operations is a wasted opportunity. Whether it’s to augment existing teams, or to identify trends and provide decision-makers with usable insights, deployed properly the technology has immense potential. However, it has to be done strategically; anything else is likely to do little in closing the gap between customers and brands.”
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Five ways to address the customer service disconnect
From our study, it’s evident that brands are still only scratching the surface of using AI to improve the customer experience. Any company planning on deploying AI should consider the following to ensure they are making the most of their investment and reaping the benefits of AI in customer service:
- Be strategic – Cutting costs and improving efficiency are perfectly acceptable goals, but they should be secondary aims to the overall objective of delivering a better, more personal customer experience. This can only be achieved by taking a strategic view and understanding how a combination of front and back office deployment will enhance customer service outcomes.
- Bots should support, not replace – Customers want a personal service – that means they want adaptable responses that are relevant to their specific query, not a general response that could be applied to multiple contexts. That’s why bots, and AI in general, should be deployed alongside human agents, not instead of.
- A quality experience is most beneficial to all – While customers cited the need for a more personalised experience, speed still matters. In fact, one in four British consumers said that being left waiting was their biggest customer service frustration. The faster queries get resolved, the happier both the brand and customer will be. Therefore, any implementation needs to have the experience front and centre, and not sacrifice it for anything else.
- Integrate AI across all elements of service – The greatest value lies in being able to deploy AI across all functions and then tying it together. From marketing and sales to support operations, AI can help each department be better aligned, more productive, deliver greater customer satisfaction and, ultimately, deeper brand loyalty.
- Invest and support AI chatbot deployment fully – It may be challenging to secure additional investment, but if brands persist in underfunding chatbots, they will continue to see mistakes being made, customers being put off by poor experiences, and potential revenue heading elsewhere.
Perfecting the customer experience
It is up to brands to improve their strategic deployment of AI powered customer service, whether in the use of chatbots or in integration across systems for a more consistent customer experience.
Consumers still prize human interaction, so it is important to use AI to enhance, not replace human customer service agents. In doing so, businesses can develop AIs that mimic the behaviour of their best agents, while freeing up headcount to focus on more complex cases. This will ultimately lead to more positive outcomes, better all-round customer experiences, greater brand loyalty and increased long-term value.
Arun Mani, President, Freshworks Europe