Predictive text, driverless vehicles, sat nav, chatbots, interactive voice response, smart speakers, digital assistance, drones. The takeover of our everyday lives by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other forms of automation seems inevitable. We’ve already handed most of ourselves over to technology, so one can only assume the rest is soon to follow.

But a recent survey of more than 2,000 UK adults suggests otherwise – at least when it comes to customer service.

Large majorities of British consumers prefer dealing with humans over automated services for everything from querying a bill (85%) and changing account details (62%) to making a complaint (84%), buying a product or service for the first time (77%), chasing an order (73%) or dealing with a fault (78%). Ease of contact is deemed most important in the banking sector (67%) followed by insurance (55%) and utilities (54%).

One of the most traditional customer contact channels, the telephone, remains the preferred method of contact when getting in touch with a company – closely followed by email. Webchat lags behind by some way with a small fraction choosing social media. Nearly half of respondents (45%) said they had never used any type of AI, but amongst those who had there is widespread dissatisfaction around its efficacy and perceived value.

Many people are not aware of how AI is changing their relationships with brands, but more and more are encountering AI systems. As exposure to AI increases in day-to-day life and people become more receptive, it is critical that businesses consider new strategies for the future of shopping without human-to human contact. But this research confirms the importance of striking the right balance between advanced technology and human talent.

A quick browse on YouTube or TikTok proves that Alexa, Siri and Google Home are prone to misunderstanding – often to humorous effect. But in the marketplace, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and Voice Assistants (VA) can quickly leave the consumer feeling frustrated and disengaged. Providers must carefully weigh the potential benefits of automation against the impersonal impact AI will have.

While convenient and instantaneous, customer experience tools like chatbots can restrict the ability to engage and fall flat when trying to respond to complex issues. The research findings clearly illustrate the importance the public places on the human touch.

A substantial 44% do not think AI will impact them positively in any way and over half (52%) think it would make dealing with brands more impersonal. Yet there is a growing adoption of instant messaging services giving customers the ability to pick and choose a contact method based on the importance of the issue.

Alan Ranger, Head of Market Development at Webhelp partner provider, LivePerson, explains the factors behind this trend.

“This is not limited to a window on a website [like webchat] and its use is native to the phones that people are already carrying around with them,” he says.

“Messaging is often more convenient and becoming mainstream for brands now. But the only way this will scale up is through automation or AI – if you want to offer a personalised service to hundreds of thousands of people.”

It is interesting to note that there is a clear divide between AI systems that customers choose to use and those that are forced on them. For example, people with a smart speaker system at home such as the Amazon Echo (Alexa) or Google Home are mostly satisfied with the way it functions – 77% said they are satisfied with their smart system. However, only 45% of people who had used a chatbot for a customer service question said that they were satisfied. Users of automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems were even less satisfied at 38%.

Again, people are likely to be more receptive to AI as they experience it more often – smart speakers are selling so fast today that during peak periods like Black Friday it has been impossible for even major brands like Amazon to keep up with the demand.

Above and beyond reactive customer services, as the use of automation and AI to drive marketing offers increasingly becomes mainstream, we’re seeing predictive analytics move more and more into the forefront.

Speech analytics and language technology are part of this wider automation debate and are amongst the ways Webhelp uses AI to help clients improve operational efficiency, reduce cost and increase revenue. This is where automation such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) and VA come into play most strongly as organisations are seeking to improve customer experience in the moment.

Whilst some predict messaging could be the future of customer experience, it has yet to be universally adopted. Adding new contact channels does not automatically lead to improved experience and can add to cost and complexity if not properly implemented. The use of NLP also leaves customers unsatisfied, as illustrated by Webhelp’s research results.

The key is to find the right balance and ensure the use of advanced technology is part of a truly omni-channel customer journey. It’s about pinpointing where and when simple interactions can be automated and at which points more complex or emotionally important interactions should be delivered by a person.

Which means less shouting at the phone, more satisfied customers, and very importantly, more revenue and customer advocacy.

 

By Dave Pattman, Strategic Marketing Director, Webhelp


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