Why AI is the new (and best) customer service agent
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Gone – or, mostly gone – are the days of calling a customer service line, using a dial-by-number, waiting on hold, then working through a chain of customer service agents to explain a problem and (ideally) have it solved.
“Post pandemic, none of us are going to deal with that,” said Adrian McDermott, CTO of Zendesk, which provides software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools around customer communications. “There’s been a huge shift in power dynamics, extraordinary user empowerment.”
AI is becoming the new customer service agent. As customers demand service that is highly personalized, easily navigable, and resolving of their concerns, questions, and needs, AI is being leveraged to automate tasks, generate recommendations, make predictions, and enable users to direct and control the experience.
Companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of customer experience (CX) as both a strategy and as a human reality.
“The bar for great customer service is being set,” said Mike Gozzo, senior vice president of product for Zendesk.
Companies are spending increasingly more money as part of that process: The CX management market is expected to reach roughly $39 billion by 2030, with an average compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18% between 2022 and 2030, according to Grand View Research.
The firm predicts that the mobile touchpoint market will register a CAGR of close to 20% over that period, while the cloud-based segment will experience a CAGR of roughly 20%. The banking, financial services and insurance market will see the highest gains of any segment, with a CAGR of nearly 20%.
Growth is being driven by increased uses of AI, enterprise feedback management (EFM) software, speech analytics tools, web and text analytics tools, and voice-enabled searching, the firm reports.
How Zendesk relates to customers
At the Zendesk Relate 2022 event being held today, Zendesk is presenting its initiatives in this area as well as market assessments, forecasts and trends.
Notably, the SaaS company will announce updates to its Conversational CRM tool. These include Enhanced FlowBuilder and bots for smarter service. These are easily scalable and can help expand automation to social apps, while addressing common issues and matching customer questions with answers. These functionalities can also be made more intelligent with third-party data like subscription IDs or order numbers, Gozzo said.
Similarly, new routing, monitoring and triage tools powered by AI, ML, and natural language processing (NLP) will automatically prioritize incoming customer inquiries with high urgency.
Enhanced analytics functionalities will also help businesses manage high volumes, analyze historical trends, and perform custom reporting capabilities such as sentiment analysis. Zendesk is introducing new functions that automate repetitive sales activities, as well.
These tools are powered by the company’s foundational Sunshine Platform, which integrates service and sales.
“How do you start a conversation with somebody that spans from when they’re a prospect, all the way until service after the fact, and keep everything consistent and seamless through that whole journey?,” Gozzo asks.
The company also announced today the launch of a new employee experience offering that aims to help companies modernize internal operations in increasingly remote-first environments. These bring together the Zendesk Suite with service packages around HR, finance, operations, and IT. Gozzo pointed out that just as customers expect customized, always-on service from companies, employees want personalized, 24-7 experiences from employers.
Removing friction with AI
As they become increasingly empowered in their service experiences, customers expect to interact with automation – but they don’t want to be hampered by it. In surveys, 65% of customers have said that bots should save them time, but 64% have also said that they don’t want to have to repeat themselves.
AI engines are valuable in this process, McDermott said: They can look across giant pools of tickets and conversations and create macro shortcuts to make recommendations to users, agents, and administrators. Prediction capabilities, similarly, can be honed by analysis of tickets, conversations, questions, and responses.
“The magic is in prediction,” McDermott said. It comes down to using all of that data to start saying, “‘How can I anticipate problems or how can I predict things that are different?’”
For example, if agents are getting large amounts of questions on shipping liquids to Canada, the system automatically pulls up Canada-based knowledge articles and past customer questions and agent responses on the topic.
“The human brain is a pattern-matching machine – that’s what we do,” McDermott noted. That said, “It’s fairly easy for AI to scale more than a human brain can comprehend. It’s turbocharging human abilities. This is the ability to see patterns that humans don’t see. We’re amplifying our pattern matching ability with machines that can see much more data.”
The future of CX will be about enriching platforms, integrating systems and API, employing skill-based routing, and using carousel technology to make experiences less point A-to-point-B and more omnichannel, McDermott said. He also expects a massive investment over the next 5 to 10 years in conversational self-service capabilities.
“My top-level hypothesis is that all enterprise software is filled with moments of friction, or moments of things you have to do over and over again with moments of repeating yourself, and there’s opportunity for insight with that,” said McDermott, who joined the 15-year-old, publicly traded Zendesk in 2010 and helped grow the company’s engineering team from 10 to more than 1,500. “When we talk about building the customer experience or customer journey, we’re talking about removing customer friction.”
Customer service is the future
Still evolving, also, is the impact of privacy on customer experiences and decision-making.
McDermott questioned what impact the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will have on the ephemerality of user data, as well as the evolution of bring your own key (BYOK) and bring your own encryption (BYOE), blockchain privacy, and growing concepts of passwordless authentication and data minimization. And Web 3 brings a whole new – and yet to be defined – privacy landscape.
“What is the system of record? How do I target, how do I understand, what context do I have?” McDermott said.
In a generalized business way, these will all be factored into how, or if, a customer decides to interact with a company.
All told, “there’s clear evidence that building a great experience helps you build a great company,” McDermott said. “I think future-wise, the richness and breadth of CX conversation can change. The expectations from the point of view of consumers are only going to continue to change. We’re going to judge companies by the experiences that we have.”
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