Artificial intelligence & customer experience

By learning more about what customers want and finding answers quickly, AI is making way for humans to provide a better and more targeted service.

New technology is transforming the way people interact with businesses – particularly advances such as voice-activated personal assistants which can understand and learn from spoken instructions to complete everyday tasks. It’s now possible to tell your smartphone to ‘Pay my water bill’ or ‘Find out where my package is’, leaving an AI-enabled personal assistant to do all the legwork. These developments are saving people – and companies - a lot of time and hassle.

‘The proliferation of apps and self-service tools is empowering autonomous customer behaviour,’ says Dr Nicola Millard, Head of Customer Insight & Futures within BT’s Global Services Innovation Team.

‘It’s giving customers more control, which like - they can do things on their own terms, in their own time. But as organisations we need to make this easy – and provide the option that they can still have their hand held if they’re not sure or need guidance,’ she notes.

‘As valuable as digital self-service is, it needs to be linked back into more traditional contact centres, branches, or shops.’

The real value from the technology is in enabling organisations to be smarter about how they use their people. Banks like Santander and RBS are already experimenting with intelligent assistants. At RBS, virtual assistant Luvo has been handling common customer issues such as mislaid credit cards or forgotten PINs. Luvo quickly mines the bank’s customer service database for answers, learning more from each web chat. As Luvo becomes faster and more accurate, the human agents guiding it are able to spend more time on the complex queries.  

Facebook’s AI-enabled smartphone assistant, M, is embedded in its Messenger app. It can buy things, deliver gifts, book restaurants, and make travel arrangements. Like Luvo, it sits with a team of people who respond to the more complex requests and ‘teach’ M by feeding it data about which types of requests require which type of response.

It gives an idea of what AI could look like at the front-end of customer service: the ideal partner to frontline employees.

‘Chatbots are great for ‘triaging’ customers,’ says Dr Millard. ‘If they can point the customer to the answer, they will. If not, they can quickly identify someone with the appropriate skills to help. And the great thing is that they can jump straight in - with a record of the conversation so far.’

All of this gives organisations the chance to make their resources go further – to provide great service (and do more of it), without driving up staff costs. If the organisation has the right connectivity, it also paves the way for new, flexible ways of running customer service departments – using cloud-based voice solutions, for example.

‘Technology makes it possible for organisations to be cleverer in the way they invest in contact centres’, says Dr Millard.

Because as companies route their routine calls to digital channels, they can start to think more creatively about the people they employ to handle the more complex queries.

‘Once you can offer flexible and remote working, you can start to attract parents returning from maternity or paternity leave, semi-retired people, and others who might not want to work 9-5 in a call centre, but would happily work unsociable hours from home’, explains Dr Millard.

Anticipating what customers need before they’ve asked

AI technology is also playing an increasing role behind the scenes, monitoring the market mood and customer sentiment online on web forums and public social networks. Social listening tools, powered by AI engines, can help companies gauge shifting moods, emerging opportunities, or additional groups of users to target with marketing. By understanding more about their preferences, companies can serve up targeted messaging (again, using automation), which closely reflects the way the market is moving and the way people are feeling. Better still, businesses can feed the intelligence back into their development and customer service teams to inspire new products or service innovations.

The more a company is seen to listen to and respond to customers, the better the experience and brand perception. It can also reduce costs for the business: once it is doing more of what they want, customers are less likely to complain. Luxury hotel group Dorchester Collection now uses AI in place of mystery shoppers and customer surveys to help marketing teams get an accurate idea of what guests really want. It delves deep into digital data from real customers to distil even the subtlest customer preferences so it can surprise guests and gain competitive advantage.

Taking advantage of this kind of innovation requires a bit of lateral thinking, and the right tools.

Don’t wait – it’s happening today

Early experimentation will soon give rise to far-reaching applications, thanks to the ease of deploying technology in the cloud and via apps. A recent survey estimated that more than three-quarters of top service teams are already using AI to enhance the customer experience and build better relationships with their customers.

It’s why BT invests so heavily in Research & Development at our Innovation Centre at Adastral Park. A tool we co-developed to improve spare parts distribution, the Intuitu Strategic Planner, recently won an award for the best use of AI in automation. We use it ourselves to visualise our networks, see where our spares are located at our exchanges, and anticipate where needs will pop up. It keeps our networks and services running smoothly, ensuring a consistent customer experience.

In frontline customer service, we expect companies to use AI to spot patterns in massive data sets and to run repetitive tasks, leaving staff to focus on all those human attributes that computers just can’t mimic, like creativity, empathy, caring, negotiation, and intuition.   

AI is just one of the topics we’ll be exploring at our Innovation 2017 technology exhibition in June. Here, organisations of all shapes and sizes will come and explore what the latest developments could do for them. With over 100 technology experts on hand, we’ll be showcasing the best research and innovation in the communications industry, and bringing in top speakers to share their views on a range of thought-provoking subjects - the future of customer experience will be a prominent theme.

To find out more about BT’s latest customer service innovations for big business, contact your account manager or call us on 0800 707 6320.

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