Will machines take over the world eventually? Movies like Terminator romanced with this idea as far back as 1984. This was thirty five years ago. The last decade and a half has seen significant development in the field of AI, machine learning and IoT, which has brought the focus back on the idea of machines making humans obsolete. It is now a topic for more serious debate, since it is no longer perceived as an idea rooted in fiction alone. But are we asking the right questions?.
There is a lot of talk about AI taking over the customer support functions in the near future, having made some inroads through interactive voice response (IVR) and chatbots. However, with the focus of organizations shifting from delivering adequate customer support to an exceptional customer experience as a means of gaining competitive advantage, can they afford to eliminate human interaction completely? While AI can assist by accelerating repetitive processes and gaining valuable insights from an increasingly large amount of data, it cannot deliver on the qualities unique to humans, such as empathy, responsiveness and compassion. This human quotient, at times can make one break from process in order to cater to a customer’s unique need, turning their experience from adequate to exceptional.
I am a believer in numbers.
Studies around the world have presented us with numbers we cannot ignore. Here are a few:
- Over 75% of people across the world indicate that they want to interact with a real person as technology improves over time
- You can charge 16% more for your product or service with a better customer experience
- According to a study by Accenture, 44% of consumers surveyed said they were frustrated by companies that failed to deliver personalized experiences
- The same study recorded that 41% of dissatisfied customers switched companies due to lack of personalization and trust.
How can we improve every customer interaction?
Each interaction has a direct impact on the quality of a customer’s journey, their experience and level of satisfaction, and thereby on repeat business?
Let’s take an example of a travel portal.
A customer logs into the portal’s app on his smartphone and goes through several steps while planning his flight tickets and hotel booking. After possibly the 10th step, just as the process is nearing completion, the app freezes and wouldn’t let the customer complete the process. This irate customer calls support for a quick resolution. After several automated steps, the customer finally reaches an agent. He is then asked questions about his intended journey, the solutions he needs, the problem he faced on the portal and so on. Even if the agent is able to help with an adequate resolution, it has cost the customer precious time and tested the limits of his patience. Such a customer is highly probable to switch to a competing travel portal for his next journey.
Let’s now assume that the travel portal’s customer support is integrated with AI. The same customer calls support from his smartphone. The agent greets the customer by his name, since the customer’s number (which he is calling from) is linked with his user profile on the portal. The agent also knows exactly where the customer faced a problem during the booking process (thanks to AI) and can start the conversation at the point of offering a solution. Having experienced a personalized interaction and a swift resolution, this customer is highly likely to return for his next travel needs.
It is vital for us to align ourselves with a “Customer experience” mindset.
Can we chat / speak / email / message the way our customers want? It is our ability to understand what our customers and our customer’s customers want, which will drive success for us as solution providers, and for our customers.
AI is not as sophisticated as the human mind in managing both the IQ and EQ. A pure tech solution cannot deliver without a human touch – the ingredient that makes each customer interaction unique. However, to make these experiences unique and exceptional, AI can play an important role in augmenting HI by processing volumes of data in quick time and providing critical customer insights at the right time.
It brings me back to where I started. Maybe the answer to the AI and HI debate is not in placing them in opposing corners, but in teaming them up and keeping our focus on achieving a singular objective – of delivering an exceptional customer experience.