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The machine learning revolution

Do you remember ten years ago when phones used to be the prime point of contact for customer-related issues? Businesses could rely on call centre agents to respond to customers in a couple of days. It took a while, and the communication options were limited. Today the rise of e-commerce, multiple communication channels and the proliferation of mobile devices has meant that consumer behaviour has significantly shifted. We now demand access to immediate information and want our issues to be solved instantly at the click of a button.   

However, while advancements such as the move to mobile and e-commerce have undoubtedly propelled the customer service industry forward, it’s the technology that is still evolving, like machine learning and AI, which will have a much larger impact on the future of businesses’ customer relationships.   

Understanding big data and analytics  

While consumers have been busy adapting to technological change at an exponential rate, they have also been happy to share more and more information. As a result, more businesses are now tracking a customer’s engagement history with their brand through a range of data sources such as social media, purchase history and customer support tickets.    

In fact, 82 per cent of retailers believe that big data is changing how they interact with and relate to their customers. However, while most businesses recognise the power of big data and analytics, few have yet to unlock the true potential of data through machine learning. 

The potential of machine learning  

Machine learning technology amplifies and extends the reach of data analytics and can help to solve customer service issues much more efficiently. Forward thinking businesses can tap into the power of machine learning algorithms to provide customer service in the fastest, most convenient way possible.   

The technology moves beyond traditional analytics and instead, it offers predictive and prescriptive analytics, to recommend live, tailored solutions for customers, based on previous experiences. Therefore, instead of aiding human analytics, machine learning replaces it, creating efficiencies for support teams to devote valuable time and resources to more critical issues, which require more of a human-to-human interaction.   

Machine learning will also allow businesses to learn more about the personal preferences of individual customers, which can then be stored in a central location. This will create a ‘collective intelligence’ that customer service teams can tap into, to learn about individual customers in order to provide a highly personalised service.

The future of machine learning

So what can we expect to see from machine learning? Well, I believe that machine learning will radically change how enterprise software is used. If we think about it in terms of previous technology revolutions, the age of steam created the industrial revolution by replacing man with coal, the age of robotics also removed the manufacturing industry’s dependency on mankind. In the future, artificial intelligence and machine learning have the potential to replace cognitive functions of the human mind.   

However, as with all previous technology, I’m not saying it would replace humans completely but rather our worker capabilities will be amplified by the information provided through machine learning. Even on occasions when machine learning may be unable to directly resolve a customer service issue, it will still aid customer service agents by providing them with a wealth of curated information at their fingertips.   

Machine learning holds infinite memory capacity through big data storage, which allows the technology to match and discover endless levels of behaviour patterns – way beyond the capabilities of the human mind. In the next ten years, we could see machine learning systems capable of understanding the nuances of human language. Yann LeCun, who leads Facebook AI Research, was recently quoted stating “we might see the emergence of considerably more intelligent AI agents for dialog systems, question-answering, adaptive robot control and even planning.”   

An encompassing strategy

Businesses need to find new ways to cater to a constantly changing audience. It’s clear that we are facing a new revolution in the way that businesses serve their customers, as technological advancements make it possible to replace humans with intelligent algorithms. The scale of the change happening makes machine learning a priority not only for global businesses such as Netflix, Facebook and Google, but for all businesses.   

Having an effective yet easily adaptable customer service function has never been more important and that isn’t going to change any time soon. As customer data analytics and machine learning continue to progress, so will customer demand. Businesses should look to create an encompassing strategy that can keep up with providing the ‘I want it now’ customer with quick and accurate solutions, and machine learning will certainly be pivotal in shaping customer relationships of the future.    

Adrian McDermott SVP Product Development, Zendesk (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/Sarah Holmlund

Adrian McDermott is SVP for Product Development at Zendesk.