The evolving landscape: AI’s impact on customer service and customer experience

The Service Line with J. N. Halm: It’s A Joke...employing Humour at the Front Line
J.N. Halm is a columnist with the B&FT

By J. N. Halm

I was wondering why the secretary was not taking minutes. Taking into consideration the importance of the meeting, I could not help but wonder why the secretary just sat there without making any notes. So you can imagine my shock when within hours of the meeting, she had sent the minutes of that meeting to all of us who were on that WhatsApp platform.

How did she do it? It took me sometime to realise that she had employed an AI-powered app that had the ability to both record and instantly transcribe the entire minutes of the meeting. That was most impressive, and as a “customer”, I had been sold on the power of AI.

I actually felt very “old school” for not knowing that there was an app like that.
We live in an era where technology has so advanced that there is almost no way of escaping its influence. It is therefore not surprising that the world of business in general, and customer service, specifically has also been “infected” by the AI bug.

To say customer service is undergoing a transformative shift will be stating the obvious. All thanks to the beast called AI. At a base level, artificial intelligence refers to the ability of computers and machines to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence.

Artificial intelligence is rapidly emerging as a powerful tool capable of not only automating tasks but also personalising interactions and enhancing the overall customer experience. AI is here to stay and here to change the experience of customers for good.

Transforming the Customer Service Landscape

Traditionally, customer service has always been a human-to-human enterprise. Customer service relied heavily on human representatives to handle inquiries, complaints, and requests. While human interaction remains invaluable, AI presents a unique opportunity to streamline processes and elevate the customer experience.

In so many ways, AI is truly affecting the experience of customers on a daily basis. Many businesses have taken advantage of what AI brings to the table. For instance, one of the main advantages AI provides to businesses is 24/7 Availability. AI-powered chatbots provide instant and continuous support. At any time of the day, you can be served by an AI program. Just like what ATMs did in the banking sector, chatbots are totally eliminating hold

times and offering assistance outside of regular business hours.
Another of the ways by which AI is transforming the landscape is by excellently handling routine enquiries and tasks. For instance, resetting of passwords, tracking of orders and even scheduling of appointments, AI has taken over Automating Repetitive Tasks. This has led to the freeing up of employees to focus on other important tasks and tasks that require a more personal human touch.

Handling large volumes of customer emails can be overwhelming. AI-driven email automation processes and responds to incoming emails based on predefined rules and customer history, reducing response times and enhancing the overall support experience.

Another way by which AI is helping with customer experience is Data-Driven Analysis. This is where AI programs are able to analyse large volumes of customer interactions and make sense of identifiable trends. Based on the meaning that the AI makes of the trends, a business is able to anticipate customer needs, address issues proactively, and develop targeted solutions.

Out of the data of customer interactions that AI can analyse, it is possible for the business to offer Personalized Service. Knowing the customer well can help the business leverage that information to offer relevant recommendations. Knowing what the customer bought the last time can help the business tailor the solutions for the customer.

AI has developed to the point where there are programs that are able to analyse customer interactions and to identify the mood of customers. Sentiment Analysis by AI can help businesses to address negative experiences promptly and improve service quality.

There are however those who are still yet to be sold on the AI craze. These individuals are of the view that the challenges and considerations with AI are just too many for businesses to be adopting AI left, right and centre.

Some have argued that AI is yet to reach the level where they will be able to handle complex or nuanced customer challenges. There are also those that have stated that because AI machines lack empathy and critical thinking skills. AI machines also lack human judgement, to tell the difference between right and wrong.

For instance, an AI machine will not differentiate between a pregnant customer and an ordinary customer. The machine will not be able to determine that the heavily pregnant woman might need to be served ahead of the customer. Machines still lack the human touch and this in itself is a big problem. AI machines have no idea what it feels like to be a human, so they cannot walk in the shoes of our customers.

There are also those that argue that AI relies too heavily on data to be able to function appropriately. By and large AI programs or machines are still computer programs and so the GIGO stance still works. Garbage In-Garbage Out is still very relevant, even with AI.

Therefore, without an input of adequate data, AI will not be able to perform appropriately.
One of the main drawbacks of AI is the fear that these almost-human machines are here to take away human jobs. With its ability to handle large data and voluminous routine tasks,

AI has the ability to actually put people out of a job. This trend will mean that people have to be trained and re-trained to be able to operate in an AI-dominant world. This is a fear that refuses to go away and this has made AI not that attractive to many others.

There are also issues with ethical considerations. With AI having the ability to delve deep into people’s personal data, it has become an issue for many businesses. There are also the presence of many unscrupulous individuals who are using AI to do so many terrible things. AI is being used to hack into personal accounts and huge sums of money withdrawn from these accounts.

Inspite of these challenges, it is a fact that there are real benefits to businesses and customers. The integration of AI into customer service offers a multitude of benefits for both businesses and customers. Increased efficiency as an advantage is a fact that many would not argue against.

Automating mundane tasks allows human agents to dedicate more time to complex requests, leading to improved overall efficiency and reduced operational costs. Customer satisfaction is said to have improved greatly. By providing faster response times, 24/7 availability, and personalised service, AI can significantly enhance customer satisfaction, leading to higher loyalty and brand advocacy.

The insights gleaned from AI-powered customer interactions empower businesses to make informed decisions about service improvements, product development, and marketing strategies. Data-Driven Decisions have become a part and parcel of the operations of many businesses. AI is also helping businesses reduce operational costs. By automating tasks and deflecting simple inquiries from human agents, AI can reduce the need for extended call centre staffing, leading to cost savings. AI can also result in enhanced scalability. AI-powered support systems can effortlessly respond to surges in customer interactions, ensuring efficient service even during peak periods.

The proof that AI is here to stay can be found in the number of new AI-powered machines and robots. The future of customer service lies in a collaborative approach where AI and human agents work in tandem. AI can handle routine tasks and provide immediate support, while skilled human representatives address complex issues and build positive relationships with customers.

The following are examples of what we can expect to see in the future of AI-powered customer experiences.

Advanced Chatbots: AI chatbots will become more sophisticated, capable of understanding complex language, context, and nuance, leading to natural and engaging conversations.
Multimodal Interactions: AI will integrate with various communication channels, allowing for seamless customer support via voice assistants, social media platforms, and messaging apps.

Predictive Customer Service: AI will anticipate customer needs by leveraging data and user behaviour to provide proactive support and personalised solutions before issues arise.
Hyper-Personalization: AI will personalise the entire customer journey, offering tailored recommendations, proactive alerts, and support based on individual preferences and past experiences.

By adopting AI responsibly and integrating it strategically, businesses can enhance customer service, streamline operations, and create a more positive and personalised customer experience. The key lies in striking a balance between automation and human interaction, ensuring AI complements and amplifies the capabilities of human agents, ultimately fostering strong customer relationships and driving business success.

According to a recent study, over 67% of consumers believe that AI will provide better customer service in the future. AI is set to usher in an era of smart customer service where every interaction feels tailor-made. Businesses have no choice but to take advantage of this latest trend. Those who refuse to do so will eventually find themselves off the stage of relevance.

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