Customer engagement in a post channel world: how AI will revolutionise customer experience

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As published in NetImperative

The rise of AI opens up a whole new range of possibilities for digital self-serve. Rick Sturge, EVP Business Development at Firstsource Solutions looks at how brands can prepare for the move towards AI, particularly on mobile.

We are fast moving towards a future where traditional channels across multiple devices will be a thing of the past. Instead, we will live in a world where a single device will deliver everything we need into the palm of our hand or the shell of our ear.

This means that the days of brands thinking in multi-channel, cross-device terms when it comes to communicating with their customers are numbered. For seamless interactions in a post-channel world, all roads will lead to the smartphone. This little gadget has become the centre of the universe for consumers, and brands are now scrambling to find the best way to place themselves into the increasingly intimate relationship between us and our phones.

The AI opportunity

The supremacy of the smartphone and the rise of the always-on consumer represents a huge opportunity for brands to tap into emerging AI technology to better connect with their customers.

With businesses waking up to this, the craze for artificial intelligence is no longer limited to the Silicon Valley pioneers. Companies are now falling over themselves to jump on the ‘bot bandwagon. Recently, the marketing and advertising giant Ogilvy announced it’s ‘Bots by Ogilvy’ venture, betting heavily on the huge potential for chat-bots to reshape the relationship between brand and consumers.

The combined power of smart phones and AI is undoubtedly set to revolutionise our everyday digital interactions and, for customer experience in particular, this opens up a new world of possibilities for digital self serve.

AI: a ‘no-brainer’?

On the face of it, AI should – quite literally – be a no-brainer. Given the choice between long hold times, repetitive phone calls and human error, or artificial intelligence programmed to get it right every time, the decision for the customer is easy.

At least, that’s the theory. However, the reality is that AI is still a long way from being able to replicate human to human engagement and, often, limitations in the technology are more likely to frustrate than placate. The very public fails of tech trailblazers whose bots have backfired are proof enough of the risks of getting AI wrong.

Man vs machine

A recent survey from ICD and Opinium shows that consumers remain wary of automated customer engagement, with four out of five saying they would prefer that human interactions remain a part of the customer service mix.

For brands, this suggests that the most effective way to deliver the very best customer experience is to ensure that the human element of customer contact works in harmony with the latest technology.

Voice remains an important means of engagement, particularly for complex or non linear interactions. Humans want to speak to humans and there will always be circumstances where a level of emotional intelligence is required that a machine cannot deliver.

In sectors such as financial services and banking, where building long term trust is crucial, AI can never be the complete solution. Whilst standard transactional processes might lend themselves to automation, other less linear customer journeys, where brands need to offer help and clarity, require a human touch instead.

The future of CX

Looking ahead, rapid developments in AI and the continued supremacy of the smartphone means there will inevitably be a move away from traditional voice, and a growing role for intelligent bots to take on the mundane, linear engagements that are not high value add or high risk.

The key for brands will be understanding the nuances between different customer journeys and how best to assign them to the most appropriate channels. Knowing when AI will improve customer experience and when it risks compromising it should be the first consideration when building any customer engagement strategy.

Listening to consumers is also essential. Using data to track engagements and learn how customers prefer to interact will help brands to personalise their approach by matching the channel to the customer’s individual preferences.

The future of customer experience will never be about universal automation. Instead, it will focus on using new technologies appropriately to increase consumer choice and more effectively engage with customers on their own terms. There is no doubt that artificial intelligence will be a transformative force, but the key to success lies in finding the right balance between the humans and the robots.

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