We spoke with CX experts to discover the relationship between AI and customer experience evolving and what potential it offers.

4 facts about customer experience & AI

In today’s ‘age of the customer’, expectations continue to rise and the telecoms industry is no different. Customer loyalty has become more competitive and many customers switch operators after one bad experience and retaining them is crucial in this saturated market. They now want a quicker experience without sacrificing the human touch in this massive industry. We spoke with CX experts to discover the relationship between AI and customer experience evolving and what potential it offers.

THERE IS NO ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ DEFINITION FOR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

The definition of customer experience is often different for each telco. CEx means providing amazing and consistent experiences to our Customers in every interaction along the customer’s journey that meets and even surpass their expectations so we can build an emotional bond,” believes Guerrero Navarro. The main challenge for big companies is to understand what unified view they want to convey to their customers across all channels, what value they give to their customers on a daily basis for all operations, whether it encompasses all the requests customers are calling for on the service lines or sending them a text update on their contract.

Muscariello believes customer experience means anticipating what the customers expect, so telcos can tailor their offerings according to their desire and behaviour. The biggest challenge is not only to attract them to your company but to tailor the experience to each unique customer. Telcos need to be able to carefully listen to what each customer is expecting from them and try and deliver the most fitting offer. Harris sees customer experience as the emotional connection and, as a result, the degree of loyalty a customer has with a company based on all interactions. A customer may have had years of wonderful experiences with a company, but just one negative experience, such as with an employee who is having a bad day, can ruin the relationship and cause the customer to take their business to a competitor.

In the omnichannel world of today, Customer Experience Management (CEM/CXM) is much more complex than in the past due to the proliferation of social media, IoT, AI, and machine learning. However, ICT companies have become more sophisticated in implementing added value strategies to create customer loyalty and maintain market share in an increasingly competitive market. They have recently scaled and automated customer engagement via call centres, websites, email, social media, and apps while incorporating more effective and streamlined processes and systems. However, many customers have complained that these are in fact having a negative impact on customer satisfaction.

Such examples include:

  • Believing they are customer-centric and making changes customers want, but in reality, are just making it easier to operate their business
  • Relying on gut feel and a cookie cutter approach to govern the majority of their day-to-day sales and customer service decisions. (CMS WiRE)
  • Inability to proactively automate simple decision-making for front-line associates. L Not providing customer-facing employees with relevant data to guide more complex decisions.
  • Disconnected steps in the customer journey due to outdated business models. 
  • Touch-points independently managed across the enterprise.
  • Touch-points not connecting with or talking to one another as well as customers expect.
  • Touch-points in actual conflict or competition with other steps of the customer journey.
  • Disconnect between traditional CRM data collection of purchase history and logged conversations and online browsing data. 
  • Operating with outdated decision making systems that rarely add value, are unable to stay abreast of technological advances, competitive pressures, dynamic markets and current consumer expectations.

Moore believes customer experience is seen as a mirage for many organisations. “They can see something but the closer they get to it, the less tangible it becomes,” he says. Psychologically speaking, it is about making an experience pleasant for the customers, in its pure behavioural sense. Seen as a non-tiring emotion and linked to a sense of achievement, “’ pleasant’ is an underrated but very powerful emotional ally in the world of customer relationships” argues Moore. The feeling of pleasure will not distract them or override how they interact with companies. The greatest challenges to adding value to customers are finding out what they need and what they value because they tend not to say what they mean, either because they do not understand what they need or because they do not feel able to articulate it to companies. Surveys, big data, and focus groups do not help in this instance and that is why brands need to get smarter and use real psychology to get under the customers’ skin. Big data will gather vast amounts of information on patterns of behaviour, but it will not provide the answer to why these patterns are occurring or even how to change them. That is when psychology will come into play, to decode them. Moore believes the most effective customer developments are the fusion of these two.

AI IS AT THE CENTRE OF DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION BUT SHOULD NOT TAKE OVER ENTIRELY

It is clear that AI is more and more important and is seen as the most strategic customer experience trend in 2017. However, technology has always been essential in this market, as processes became more and more automated over time. Telcos need to consider and balance what they want for their customer experiences with what the customers actually want. Even if a telco wants to have a more automated relationship with their customers, it can create problems, such as in customer service, where the human beings calling to talk about their issues might not want to engage with an AI operator.

“Today, telcos own a massive amount of data, but are not really good at analysing the potential of this data,” says Muscariello. They are not yet able to understand what it is telling them about the customers’ behaviour and the way they consume services, mobiles, and the internet for example and this can be very frustrating for them. He believes AI has the ability to understand every single customer with the view of delivering a personalised digital service that would be aligned with them in terms of process, experience, and purchase options, as long as they take the time to learn how to use AI properly. “One thing we have learnt from them is that customers want to be independent” argues Muscariello. They are starting to push back on human interaction and preferring an application. The problem is, the processes included in these applications are the same and they are not dealt with in real time by human operators, which is why customer services will still be needed. Customers will still want to be reassured by someone that what they have done in the digital realm is correct.

Harris believes AI is an umbrella term for the integration of machine learning, natural language processing, and knowledge management to manage daily tasks and transform the customer experience by:

  • Analysing customer data and generating unique insights, predictions, and recommendations.
  • Reacting, learning and adapting in real time, based on historical and dynamic customer data such as click-stream, social activity, and inputs such as weather, look-a-like audience and IoT data.
  • Identifying patterns in huge sets of data and completing repetitive tasks. 
  • Allowing customer-facing employees to focus on human qualities computers cannot yet effectively imitate like intuition, empathy, caring, negotiation and creativity.

Quoting Altimeter Group, Harris agrees AI “represents a new foundation for what is referred to as conversational commerce. Instead of solving individual touch-points and instances, AI will help companies stitch together more natural and complete journeys to improve, integrate and even re-imagine customer experience.” 

Moore thinks the problem in terms of the psychology of trust is the power of non-verbal behaviours, such as the tone of another person’s voice, as human brains are wired to seek trust signals in other humans. “Automating customer services interaction or feedback will not pacify our brain systems enough to trust what we are being told,” he says. Customers need to interact with another human or at least have confidence that another human being is not that far away if needed. “Automated processes are OK to a point, but I feel we will never complete, nor should we, move to complete non-human interaction, as it is completely unnatural and alien to how our brain expects to interact and communicate to the world.”

AI HELPS CUSTOMER EXPRESS THEMSELVES

Guerrero Navarro believes “AI and natural language allow excellent customer experience” and states they are already working on it at Telefónica.

Her opinion is joined by Muscariello, who sees two steps in this evolving relationship between AI and operators becoming more customer-centric, reducing the response time and then personalising it. The first step is that AI helps reduce the time for a telco to answer customer enquiries in real time. “If you are more present on social media, you enable your customers to express themselves and give you feedback instantly,” says Muscariello. This feedback is given through different channels, whether it is in a retail shop, on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media channel. More and more messages are coming through and the response time is getting longer. AI will be able to give the customers an initial quick answer, in order to make them feel they are listened to and thus more patient before the second answer arrives. And because AI can analyse behaviours, it will also be able to offer a more personalised response the second time around. 

For Harris, “AI is one of the most innovative and multi-faceted technologies to help operators in their evolution to become more customer-centric.” The following are a few examples of early adoption AI CEM solutions:

  • Intelligent Routing: Instead of routing tickets based on agent availability or the subject matter or both, intelligent routing could automatically escalate tickets created by high-value customers and those who have a high potential of cancelling service. 
  • Enhanced Customer Control: customers do things on their own terms, in their own time. However, companies need to make this digital approach easy and provide traditional options to customers if they prefer or need guidance.
  • Greater Personalisation: AI can analyse search, click and purchase history to recommend personalised offers. If a customer likes Product X, she can be proactively notified about X.1 and introduced to Y and Z for cross-sell/upsell revenue-generating ideas. Personalised info can help customers make quick decisions with more confidence instead of slowing down the decision-making process and allowing time to shop the competition.

Other AI applications implemented today include the task performance/management, questions/ answers, augmented engagement, product/ service innovation, predictive service/sales, and digital concierge/assistant collaboration.

IN TEN YEARS, AI WILL HAVE CHANGED EVERYTHING

Because the telecoms industry is so technology-driven, AI and other new advancements will undoubtedly have a big impact. Guerrero Navarro believes that AI, combined with augmented reality, virtual reality and digital ecosystems will all have a huge impact on customer experience. Muscariello recognises three main challenges that telcos will have to overcome in the future. 

  • The volume of interaction: as mentioned earlier, the number of messages going through the different channels will keep growing quickly. Not only that, customers are exchanging information with each other about the services and experiences they have had with operators. Telcos are losing control and they need to keep having valuable interactions on those channels to explain what they can do for their customers and avoid being cut off from the conversations happening. They need to find a balance on the response time and avoid being either too quick or too slow.
  • Giving the customer the opportunity to use self-service while supporting them along the way: Whether a consumer has an issue with their TV or mobile or simply wants information on data usage abroad for example, they need to be able to communicate with the telcos seamlessly. Currently, companies are not good enough in providing digital services to help customers interact with the operators in a seamless way, anywhere, any time. 
  • New Media are emerging and will develop in the next decade. Voice is a simple one and video is much more sophisticated. But for both AI works perfectly in “providing personalised answer” based on “the learning phase” worked out with each customer. While “Amazon Alexa” and “Google Home” are new voice assistants which will develop interaction based on AI, video is not yet recognised for its potential. AI could help by matching the content of a video to the consumers’ needs in a short time and release a “how to” video to try and help the consumers who will face the same problem. Moreover, people read less and less and telcos need to adapt. “We remember twice the amount of information when we see something than when we read it,” says Muscariello. 

Harris thinks although AI has exciting potential in many areas, “CEM is one of the most likely spots in which AI will have a significant impact.” Operators are just starting to understand how AI can benefit their organisations and customers. In Forrester’s “Q1 2017 Tech Radar on AI report”, she says, decision management is identified as the AI technology most strongly positioned to deliver value over the next five to ten years. This is based on the belief that to extract value out of AI technologies, businesses must transform insights into actions. One of the key inhibitors to speeding up AI implementation is that adoption of new technology has been historically slow since it is typically viewed as a cost rather than an investment and unions may try and slow down the process, due to fear of losing jobs. However, customer engagement is not a cost centre, but an investment in customer relationships. In addition, operators will need to be open-minded to embrace innovative ways of enhancing the customer experience instead of being limited by current perspectives and processes. AI will most likely have one of the biggest impacts on customer experience transformation in the next decade. However, she adds “due to the rapid pace of technological innovation, who knows what new types of customer experience solutions will emerge!” 

Moore believes AI will be efficient in customer experience, only if it is combined with psychologists. He advises to “deploy them at the start of the process so they can tell you where to focus your automated efforts to ensure more efficacious outcomes, or deploy them at the end of automation to decode what it finds so you can intervene and change.”