In the world of automation-first customer service, 2018 was a big year. Exciting developments on several fronts have customer service departments focusing on the future. Let’s look at what key trends are expected to shape the industry in 2019 and beyond.
2018: The tipping point for AI
This was a pivotal year for the customer service industry, which brought three important shifts that will impact the space for years to come:
- Automation-first mindset - To keep up with the ever-increasing number of channels customers use, and their rising expectation for on-demand, high-quality, self-directed customer service leaders have moved from “agent-first” thinking to an “automation-first” mindset.
- AI - fantasy vs. reality - The evangelism of artificial intelligence (AI) over the past three years, resulted in disappointment when many companies discovered a disconnect between the theory and promise of AI compared to its actual business application. “Now businesses are realizing that AI technology alone is not inherently valuable—what matters is how you use it and the credibility of your partners,” explained Mike Murchison, Ada’s Co-founder and CEO.
- Accessible AI - There has never been more demand to make AI accessible to non-technical people. Murchison says, “This is really exciting as we’ve always been focused on making Ada’s AI-powered platform easy for all skill levels. We understand that the people who know a business best are often those who deal with customers every day, and therefore aren’t necessarily very technical. That’s why the move to make AI more approachable is going to have such a lasting impact.”
What changed for AI in 2018?
- Shift from agent-first to automation-first thinking
- Realization that AI alone does not bring value–it’s all about application
- Rising demand to make AI accessible to non-technical people
New roles and new opportunities
As companies begin to enjoy growing customer satisfaction, reduced costs and enhanced efficiencies using AI-powered solutions, companies are introducing the world’s first automated customer experience (ACX) departments. This new ACX department is responsible for applying AI to day-to-day operations to drive efficiency, increase satisfaction and reduce customer effort. And as customer service leaders know, the people driving the ACX strategy should be the ones who know how to affect the biggest impact on customers, and on the business.
“For too long, the people who know your customers and your products better than anyone, and who really embody your brand, have been undervalued,” says Murchison. As AI becomes more accessible, strategic thinkers are leveraging the invaluable knowledge of customer service professionals to improve customer experience (CX) across the entire customer journey—while also increasing efficiency.
New opportunities and roles are emerging as the ACX department takes hold. In addition to the leadership role (VP or Director of ACX), companies need ACX managers who apply AI and handle day-to-day needs, from updating content to measuring performance. And they need people to build the conversational experiences. Murchison explains, “Never before has it been so important for companies to be able to communicate clearly. Your conversations need to be visual, succinct, and snappy—they should read like a friend iMessaging you.” This opens up a whole new world of possibilities and actually elevates the role of customer service agents.
As AI-powered automation becomes more effective, moving from being reactive to proactive, and from automating responses to automating actions, companies will be better positioned to improve their customer experience from end-to-end.
A common myth about AI is that it’s taking away customer service jobs, but in reality AI is transforming the experience for agents, too. Automating the mundane, repetitive tasks frees up agents to spend their time on higher value, more complex customer problems. This makes the job more stimulating, more relationship oriented—which in turn reduces turnover in the department that often has the highest attrition.
So it is all smooth sailing from here?
These are exciting times for the customer service industry, but that doesn’t mean they’re without challenges. As the sheer number of channels consumers want to communicate through continues to grow, customer service leaders have to figure out how to adopt them all. “One of the only ways to provide a consistent, high-quality customer experience across all channels is to ensure you have an automation strategy in place,” says Murchison. “As the market leader in this area, Ada is in a really strong position to help.”
Figuring out how to build the ACX team is another major challenge facing customer service leaders. As industries begin formulating how to structure their ACX teams, Ada is supporting businesses to build and manage some of the world’s first ACX departments. "We envision the ACX team becoming standardized, the same way, for example, the digital marketing team is now structured in most businesses,” says Murchison. “It’s exciting to be a part of leading such a major shift and helping to develop best practices that will forever change the face of customer service."
As chatbots become imperative, it’s important for companies to remember that they are not all created equal. Businesses should seek a solution that can provide accurate, consistent, and personalized automation.
Giving customers their time back can turn what may have been a contentious relationship (“Ugh, I hate calling the cable company!”) into one that’s more consultative—and valuable. When consumers don’t have to advocate for themselves every time they contact a company, whether it’s a bank they’ve been using for 20 years or a new digital service provider, it changes the potential of the interaction. With intelligent automation, consumers will expect to connect with a chatbot or an AI-assisted agent that can help them instantly find information or take action like change account information or make a purchase.
AI-powered automation has the potential to truly transform the customer experience. In doing so, it will save both businesses and their customers millions of hours of lost time and productivity. The companies that put the right AI tools in the hands of the right people—those who are highly empathetic and understand the customer best—will create the most valuable and differentiated customer experiences in 2019 and beyond.
If AI put customer service on autopilot, the experience would not be good. But the companies that put the right AI tools in the hands of the right people—those who are highly empathetic and understand the customer best—will be able to create incredible customer experiences.