By Rei Kasai
Modern customer service that drives exceptional outcomes is critical to any business’s longevity and long-term success. In fact, 49 percent of consumers said they would stop using a brand after just one bad experience.
If businesses want to keep consumers happy and returning, they must make sure that not only the first impression goes right, but every subsequent interaction. But in a challenging economic environment, many brands are struggling to meet these rising customer demands with diminished budgets and smaller teams.
Businesses that find new and creative ways to deliver what customers want efficiently and cost-effectively will gain a significant competitive advantage. While every industry has its nuances, some of the most innovative and forward-looking customer service teams invest in three areas: Conversational AI, omnichannel capabilities, and employee experience.
Leveraging the Sophistication of Conversational AI
Conversational artificial intelligence (AI) is a powerful form of AI that augments the work of customer service agents and creates a better, more personalized customer experience. In the contact center, we typically see this capability deployed as virtual agents. It uses machine learning (ML) algorithms, data science techniques, and large language models to understand human communication and simulate human-like customer interactions.
In many situations, a virtual agent can field a customer’s request and generate an appropriate response without human assistance, freeing live agents to handle more complicated exception scenarios requiring a human touch.
This technology has been around for years. Voice assistants, such as Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, are commonplace in our lives and help us find directions, reorder a favorite product, or find an answer during a debate with friends or family. But rapid digital transformation, further accelerated by the pandemic, forced businesses to fully embrace e-commerce and modern methods of offering the same level of service expected from in-person conversations.
Research reveals that 89 percent of Customer Experience (CX) professionals recognize the importance of AI in the contact center, and 84 percent plan to increase their AI spending in 2025, compared to 2021.
It’s no wonder; customers want to solve their issues faster and on their own. And if they do need to engage with an actual agent, the customer service representative can leverage real-time AI to guide a seamless conversation.
With no hold times and virtual assistants on hand for live agent support, customers receive fast, efficient resolutions. Customers with a wonderful experience will become more loyal and refer friends, family, and colleagues, decreasing churn costs and increasing revenue.
And 2023 has seen the boom of generative AI. ChatGPT, Bard, and other generative AI systems have brought conversational AI to a new level. Virtual agents will no longer be limited to predefined situations, but instead evolve into continuously learning through conversations to handle new situations.
Some brands are already taking advantage of their numerous capabilities to assist and automate agent activity, although it’s still quite early in its commercial rollout for customer-facing applications that will represent a brand. Also, there are ethical concerns, and regulations are sure to come, but there is little doubt generative AI will revolutionize customer service.
Be Everywhere for Everyone
With an omnichannel strategy, businesses can offer a myriad of communication channels, from voice to SMS to chatbot and everything in between, allowing consumers to pick which one they want to use and not be forced to use something less convenient.
Research reveals that 78 percent of consumers want to communicate on their preferred channel, and 72 percent say their preferences change based on context. It’s important to provide not only multiple channels but to ensure it’s easy to switch and use them together to create a richer multi-model customer experience.
For example, a customer might be engaging with a virtual agent to ask a question about a recent purchase. If the virtual agent can’t resolve the problem, the customer might decide it would be better to speak with a live agent.
An omnichannel contact center provides the customer a seamless transition to escalate the virtual agent chat experience to a live chat or voice experience, while providing all the key information about the interaction to the next customer service agent in queue. The agent can immediately continue assisting the customer without asking them to start from the beginning, creating a bottleneck that frustrates both sides.
Everything ties back to an excellent CX. Customers can use the channels they want and are more comfortable on, leading to more effective, efficient support experiences.
Happy Employees = Happy Customers
Turnover in the contact center has always been a significant problem. It’s demanding work, often with little reward. Agents deal with a lot of frustrated customers and have few support mechanisms to lean on, which can quickly turn into burn out. It’s difficult to be empathetic and build rapport with a customer when you are just going through the motions.
Engaging in meaningful work is incredibly important for job satisfaction. When an agent must routinely provide answers to the same questions or engage in tedious after-call work, it can have a negative impact on their work experience. AI in the contact center can automate much of the mundane activities and processes, and free up the agent to solve more important and complex customer problems.
Contact centers are already using generative AI to summarize interactions and automatically set customer dispositions. Previously, this could take up to an hour of an agent’s day to manually regurgitate what they just heard. This eliminates the point of pain from their experience.
Another problem for customer service agents is the number of CX systems they must access to help a single customer. It’s not unusual for an agent to access six or more different systems in one interaction. It slows down communication, makes the customer more impatient, and distracts the agent. It’s not a positive experience for the customer or the agent.
Unifying all these CX systems into a single workspace for the agent can make a dramatic difference to the agent’s experience. By providing direct access to all vital CX applications and data on a single screen, the agent no longer must jump between browser tabs and can seamlessly transition between handling live interactions, managing voicemails, and completing after-call work. This saves them a lot of time and frustration.
Anything that improves the employee experience—no matter how minute—will have a positive impact on the customer experience.
Implementing innovative technology, engaging with customers on their terms, and investing in employees are three strong and proven customer service strategies to gain a leg up on your competition. In times of economic uncertainty, it’s important to continue to invest in the future, but to invest wisely. Ensuring customer loyalty will accelerate revenue and opportunity as market conditions improve.
Rei Kasai is the SVP/global head of product and engineering at Talkdesk, which helps enterprises modernize their customer service.