• April 25, 2019
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

Use of AI in Customer Service Doubled in 2018

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Corporate investment in artificial intelligence-powered customer care solutions has nearly doubled in the past 12 months alone, according to a recent study by customer experience consulting firm COPC and Execs in the Know, a global community of customer experience professionals.

The research, presented in a report titled “The CX Journey: Understanding Corporate Strategies and Best Practices,” found that since 2017 companies have dramatically increased their budgets for use of artificial intelligence (AI)-powered solutions for customer service. The number of companies using such technologies increased from 17 percent in 2017 to more than 30 percent at the end of last year, according to the data.

An unrelated study from Gartner, though, shows even greater adoption of AI in customer service. The research firm’s data found that 37 percent of customer service leaders are piloting or using artificial intelligence bots and virtual customer assistants (VCAs). And, of those leaders, 67 percent believe the two technologies are high-value tools in the contact center.

In the Gartner survey of 452 service leaders across all industries and business types, respondents pointed out that confidence is leading more companies to adopt the technologies—with 68 percent of service leaders saying they believe AI bots and VCAs will be of significant value and importance for them and their organizations in the next two years.

The data prompted Gartner’s researchers, in their current “Technology Roadmap Survey,” to conclude that “in recent years, no other technology has piqued customer service and support leaders’ interest more than AI bots and VCAs.”

“While bots and VCAs are still emergent technologies, many service leaders have been impressed with their potential. As a result, we are seeing more adoption of these technologies into service technology portfolios,” adds Lauren Villeneuve, a senior advisor at Gartner.

And when it comes to how the technology is being used, about half of all companies with AI-powered solutions are deploying both agent-assisting and customer-facing solutions, the COPC/Execs in the Know study finds.

“Our new corporate report shows that companies see tremendous potential in AI-powered solutions for customer care, both in applications that are customer-facing and in those that assist call center agents with their work,” Kyle Kennedy, president and chief operating officer of COPC, concludes in the report.

For organizations using the technology, the upside can be tremendous, according to Gartner’s research. It found that when companies deployed bots and VCAs in their contact centers, the following benefits are possible:

  • Greater capability and scale: AI bots are better equipped to resolve the simple issues that bring customers to self-service in the first place, allowing service reps to focus on the more complex tasks and issues.
  • Faster chat speeds: AI bots can drastically reduce customer wait times. For example, one company’s chatbots can respond to customer inquiries within five seconds of customer contact, while its typical service reps take an average of 51 seconds to respond.
  • Better gatekeeping: AI bots can learn to recognize other bots trying to gain access to systems, thus freeing service reps to focus only on actual customers.

“Service organizations that are integrating these technologies—both customer-facing and rep-facing systems—into their operations are using innovation and progressive strategies to ensure the success of the technology. AI bots and VCAs are relatively new in the customer service space, so it’s critical that companies evaluate these technologies to ensure they are the right fit for their organization and customers,” Villanueve writes in the report.

Kennedy also recommends that companies consider their customers first and foremost prior to any AI deployment. “We also know from previous research that customers want a quick and easy way out of any AI-powered solution to reach a live person. Our findings overwhelmingly show that companies are keenly aware of this necessity in any customer-facing application. And while customers still want that personal interaction, we think that AI-powered solutions will find their appropriate place in the service journey,” he says.

Equally important, according to Kennedy and the COPC/Execs in the Know study, is the need to have a cohesive alignment across the organization. Unfortunately, fewer than half of survey respondents claimed a cohesive alignment between their company culture and their leadership’s customer-first strategy.

Furthermore, only one in 10 companies think they are doing a good job of providing consistency across channels, and nearly a quarter of all companies had no initiatives to improve their cross-channel consistency.

Creating greater consistency across channels, including automated ones, represents a huge opportunity for companies to improve the customer experience, the COPC/Execs in the Know survey concludes.

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