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I wrote today’s post for RingCentral; it covers the various ways that artificial intelligence can improve the contact center experience for both employees and customers.

You know it. We all experience it. Customer service these days can be just dreadful. Recently RingCentral and Opinium conducted research that confirmed what we’re all thinking: there’s a lot of room for improvement when it comes to customer service interactions.

Customer Service Frustrations

What is going on? Why are we all hesitant to reach out and contact brands to get help with whatever the issue or topic may be? Respondents of the aforementioned research were asked to choose their top three frustrations among nine common issues with customer service. The top sources of frustration include (with the percent who indicated it was a top-three issue):

  • Automated systems that don’t understand what you’re saying or don’t have the option you need (50%)
  • Having to explain the issue every time you’re passed on (43%)
  • Time spent waiting to speak to or hear back from any agent (41%)
  • Not getting to the right person the first time (28%)
  • Not being able to connect using my preferred channel (22%)
  • Insincerity from an agent on the call (17%)

Only three percent of respondents cited that they don’t have any frustrations when dealing with customer service.

Here’s how bad it is. When asked what they’d rather do than contact customer service, respondents would rather:

  • Be without TV for an hour (53%)
  • Clean the bathroom (48%)
  • Be without internet for an hour (43%)
  • Have a cold shower (33%)
  • Stand in a queue for an hour (23%)

I was personally saddened that “have a root canal” wasn’t one of the options!

Seriously, though, it’s a problem. And the cost of a bad customer service experience is real and shouldn’t be ignored. When respondents were asked about their likelihood of purchasing from the brand again after experiencing poor customer service, more than half (57%) were fairly or very unlikely to buy again. Only 16 percent were fairly or very likely to buy again.

Do Customers Want AI-Driven Customer Service?

How do we fix this? Is AI the solution? When respondents were asked about ways that AI could enhance the customer service experience, they chose their top three from a list of ways; here’s what they said (with percentage choosing it as a top-three):

  • Reduce average hold times (37%)
  • Enable single agent to access your full history (37%)
  • Expand availability to 24/7 support (36%)
  • Increase first call resolution rates (29%)
  • Ensure security of personal data when using AI (20%)
  • Provide clear estimates for solutions (20%)
  • Make recommendations tailored to my situations (17%)

Eighteen percent actually said they don’t want AI to enhance the customer service experience. Does that mean they’re not aware of what it can do? Or do they fear/not trust AI? Regardless, it requires brands who do use AI to improve the experience to be more methodical, educational, informative, and aware of customer preferences and expectations.

Can AI Save Poor Customer Service?

Let’s start there, the educational and informative part. Is AI the solution for poor customer service? How can it help make it better? Here are just some of the ways AI can improve both the customer experience and the employee experience.

  • Automation: AI-powered chatbots handle routine inquiries, freeing up human agents to focus on more complex issues and value-added work. This ensures faster response times and reduces the chance of customers experiencing long wait times.
  • 24/7 Availability: AI-powered systems can operate round the clock, providing support to customers at their convenience, regardless of time zone or time of day.
  • Personalization: By analyzing customer data and understanding customer preferences, behaviors, and past interactions, AI systems can tailor responses and recommendations to meet individual needs, enhancing the overall customer experience.
  • Predictive Analytics: AI can analyze historical data to identify patterns and predict potential issues before they escalate – and prescribe next best actions that drive positive outcomes for customers and for the business. This proactive approach enables companies to address problems preemptively, thereby minimizing customer frustration and dissatisfaction.
  • Efficient Routing: AI can intelligently route customer inquiries to the most appropriate agent or department based on the nature of the inquiry, ensuring that customers are connected to the right resource quickly.
  • Sentiment Analysis: Similarly, AI can analyze customer interactions, data, and voice to identify sentiment and intent, allowing the customer to be routed to the appropriate agent who can prepare to de-escalate the situation, if needed.
  • Language Support: AI-powered language processing capabilities enable companies to provide customer support in multiple languages without the need for multilingual agents, thereby catering to a diverse customer base more effectively.
  • Feedback Analysis: AI can analyze customer feedback across various channels to identify recurring issues and areas for improvement. This helps companies refine their customer service strategies and prioritize areas for enhancement.
  • Coaching and Assistance: AI can assist human agents by providing real-time coaching, guidance, and suggestions during customer interactions. This helps agents resolve issues more efficiently and consistently, especially for more-complex inquiries.

Given all the different ways that AI can help to improve the customer service experience, it’s no surprise that RingCentral partnered with Opinium to conduct this important research. Their AI-first contact center solution, RingCX, which I’ve written about previously, solves for the frustrations that were uncovered in their research.

RingCX provides capabilities to improve the experience for agents and customers before, during, and after contact.

  • Before: agents have insights into prior customer conversations so that customers don’t have to repeat themselves or feel unknown.
  • During: real-time AI agent assistance and script guidance enables live coaching on every call.
  • After: automatic AI summaries enable agents to quickly close calls and move to the next customer; quality management helps supervisors efficiently assess team performance; and conversational insights offer up business insights such as customer sentiment and common topics for coaching and continuous improvement to drive value.
In Closing

AI definitely has the potential to enhance the customer service experience, but it’s not a magic bullet. It can streamline processes, improve communication, and deliver personalized interactions at scale. But be aware that over-reliance on AI can lead to impersonal experiences, other frustrations exacerbated by complex issues, and disconnection. Ultimately, successful customer service requires a human touch alongside AI’s capabilities, complementing rather than replacing, thereby combining efficiency with empathy to create meaningful interactions.

The playing field is poised to become a lot more competitive, and businesses that don’t deploy AI and data to help them innovate in everything they do will be at a disadvantage. ~ Paul Daugherty, chief technology and innovation officer, Accenture

ABOUT ANNETTE

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business [Advantage|ForbesBooks], which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.

Image courtesy of Hitesh Choudhary on Unsplash