Insights from “AI and the Customer Conversation”


Last month I served on the panel of a live webinar where best-selling author Don Peppers and I discussed trends in customer support, and how the dynamic between businesses and customers is evolving with the rapid adoption of AI and automation. I want to delve deeper into a few of those insights.

Support by Issue Type vs. Customer Type

Support teams are beginning to treat individual customers differently in order to create more compelling experiences, and the most compelling experience that customers want is quick resolution to their issues. In fact, 84% of customers prefer speedy resolutions over having multiple choices with which to reach companies.

One common way of offering compelling experiences is through support channels. Many companies will offer different channels based on user type, such as VIP, standard, etc. This is a cost effective approach, but not the best for customers who’d rather not be defined in such a way. A more customer friendly approach is based on issue type. For example, if there is a billing issue then a phone number may be displayed to the customer. A technical issue might best be resolved through chat, since it may be easier for the customer to describe technical factors. Sophisticated organizations combine both of these methods in order to create “customer channel mapping.” When thinking about how to apply this to your organization, ask yourself if you’re considering channels based on relative cost, or if you’re also accounting for which channels provide the fastest resolutions.

Customer Duality

When speaking with Don, he made an excellent point about duality, and how solving business needs can often indirectly improve customer experiences. He described an example of an ATM that can automatically provide suggestions for how much you should withdraw, based on previous transaction history. When he spoke with leaders at this organization, he discovered this feature was added to serve customers more quickly in order to make a higher return. However, this also had an additional effect: it made the customer experience more frictionless and personalized.

So this begs the question, is this better customer service or increased business efficiency? The correct answer is both. When you use technology to deliver more personalization to customers and remove friction from their experience, your costs will go down as well. Not only will customers be happier on account of the more personalized service, but your business will waste less time and effort.

Conversational AI also plays a significant role in this concept of customer duality. I’ve heard twice this week from clients that average handle time and CSAT went down for their agents after implementing self-service technology. Based on what we learned above, this may seem counterintuitive. The explanation for it however, is that agents are left with more complex cases that AI was not able to resolve, and they aren’t always equipped to handle this shift in difficulty. In fact, we can see a similar trend in both manufacturing and retail, where simple, repetitive tasks are now being handled by technology.

Preparing Support Agents for Success

How do you prepare agents for success in a rapidly evolving world? This is a great opportunity for CX leaders to take a hard look at their team’s career path and provide employee incentives for staying longer to reduce burn-out and increase employee retention. This is vital as jobs become more complex and demand an increase in critical thought.

Having a modern tech stack is certainly helpful, but there are three areas that need to be considered as organizations move in this direction. First, end-to-end automation and self-service initiatives are on the rise – repetitive and high volume tasks like order tracking, returns, subscription management, and invoicing are being automated. Agent augmentation is also an effect of modernization, where support agents are becoming nearly super-human in their abilities. For example, they now have access to customer history, have answers generated for them, and can resolve questions much faster than before. Lastly, agent retraining – and rethinking the hiring process – is important, not because robots will take away jobs, but because of how AI augments the capabilities of your agents. It will become increasingly more important to train agents to handle more complex cases, with improved problem solving skills.

Obstacles and Solutions

Don explained that there are three primary obstacles that arise in organizations which prevent positive customer experiences, those obstacles being alignment, mindset, and capabilities.

When there are alignment issues in your organization, it can be difficult to ensure customer requests will be resolved. Alignment on best practices, which are designed with the customer in mind, can alleviate this problem and ensure better support handling. The mindset of your organization and your current customer request servicing best practices, may need to change in order to improve the customer experience. Capabilities are important for how your organization decides to service its customers. Will you implement AI? Can you implement AI? Do you need to scale your support teams for growth? These are all important questions to ask when determining what your organization can do to improve the customer experience you are providing.

Speaking with Don about the changes happening in the world of CX was enlightening. I hope our viewers were able to get their own insights out of it as well.

You can watch the recording of this webinar here, or view our “How To Improve your Customer Interactions” infographic here.