Let AI Help When Work From Home Suddenly Becomes the Norm

Written by Can Ozdoruk  on   Mar 26, 2020

To try to stop the spread of COVID-19, companies and governments are mandating people work from home. Customer service managers are navigating through a time with a displaced workplace, at the same time when their agents are on the front lines of an unprecedented pandemic. Many companies are finding there may be no better time than the present to turn to AI to support their customers and agents.

With COVID-19, customer service agents are on the front lines  

The panic and uncertainty surrounding the Coronavirus has led to a surge in customer service tickets. Few, if any, industries have been spared, although the circumstances vary greatly from industry to industry.

Companies including airlines, hotels, conferences and events are managing an influx of cancellations or deferral requests. Frustrated customers are experiencing hours-long wait times looking for refunds or credits. Agents’ work is further complicated by ever-evolving company policies, as well as new and quickly-changing local and federal regulations. 

This compares to the influx of tickets for companies that can power the social-distancing society, like meal kits and subscription companies, streaming services and e-commerce. These businesses are seeing a surge in demand. These new customers come with their own issues and questions. That’s why if you look at the Contact Us page of these companies, it’s not uncommon to see a note asking for patience due to “higher than normal ticket volumes.” 

Support Challenges with Business Continuity Plans 

Customer service managers have multiple challenges during this time that are putting business continuity plans to the test like never before: new hires and a remote workforce. 

As demands for their products and services skyrocket, eCommerce companies like Amazon1 and Walmart2, grocery and meal delivery companies like Instacart, and companies that power the work-from-home ecosystem are on a hiring frenzy. These new hires that need to be trained remotely, and monitored closely in their first few weeks of work to ensure consistency.

Experienced agents are also now working remotely. Some hourly workers don’t have ideal work-from-home set-ups with proper work stations, computers and wifi. The costs associated with outfitting teams for remote work adds another cost in already uncertain economic times.

In these circumstances, it’s difficult to maintain trust and transparency, as well as keep resolution times down and CSAT high. 

Why AI is more critical than ever for customer service teams 

AI is proving to be an essential part of customer service teams that are weathering this storm with high customer satisfaction, as well as agent productivity and happiness. This is because AI is the ultimate team player: always-on, 24/7;  transparent in its work; guard-railing new agents during their training process and doling out work fairly to existing agents. Let’s dive in to how AI is helping companies through the Coronavirus: 

1. Always-on and always-resolving

AI agents don’t sleep, get sick or take breaks. AI resolves repeatable, simple queries and tickets in seconds, so human agents can focus solely on more pressing, high-touch and critical issues. Response times will decrease substantially, as AI alleviates work from agents.

2. Scale-up, scale-down in seconds

AI can scale to adapt to changes in volume immediately. While hiring new agents can take days, if not weeks, which is accompanied by training and on-boarding, relief for your existing agents is far from immediate. Compare this with AI: it can handle an infinite number of tickets at a single time. For example, WestJet previously averaged 60 customer service messages per minute on Facebook Messenger, but during the first week of the Coronavirus outbreak in North America, it peaked at 200+ per second. Because the airline leveraged a virtual agent, response times remained low, even as volume surged.  

3. On-boarding new agents

Once agents have been trained initially, they still might have low confidence about how to respond or questions about a business policy. AI can recommend responses to agents, which can serve as a point of reference for them.

4. Identifying new or trending issues

In real-time, AI can alert customer service managers in real-time if there is a spike in tickets related to a specific issue, or ones within a specific geographic region. This can help the company monitor the situation, create a response plan and proactively communicate it to all affected customers.

5. Transparency

There are plenty of tech solutions that track agent work and productivity, but AI is completely measurable. Customer service managers will know, in real-time, precisely what is and is not working, how AI is helping agents, as well as key metrics such as SLAs, CSAT, resolution and response times.

6. Being the first line of defense for anxious and rude customers

According to an article in The Atlantic, “Research has consistently shown that the emotional labor often performed by people in customer-service jobs – the smiling through rudeness, the calming of nerves, the constant control of one’s own emotions – has what one widely cited study described as “uniformly negative effects on workers.” 3

All of this is true on a normal day. Now, compound the stress of today’s environment where customers are unsure, panicked and anxious. We’re also in a time when families are doing triple duty: working, parenting and teaching. 

AI can help with agents’ emotional well being in a few ways. On the most basic level, AI offloads work and responsibility. AI can also leverage sentiment analysis to route frustrated or anxious customers to the right agents. For instance, this could be an agent who has not had a difficult customer in the last hour, sparing the agent who just finished with a difficult customer.

7. Available across every channel

AI can scale across email, chat, social, and voice. When you leverage AI, you don’t have to choose or sacrifice performance on one channel while your company focuses on another. AI enables companies to be present on a customer’s channel of choice.

It’s a new world. Is your customer service team ready?

In an article in the Financial Times, Ann Fracke, head of the Chartered Management Institute, says “This is unprecedented. It may change the workplace forever. Everyone will need to embrace a different sort of workplace behavior4”. 

AI will be the key hire for customer service organizations in the immediate future. When support departments become stretched and remote, AI can help maintain CSAT, boost agent productivity and provide experiences that build long-term loyalty.  

Netomi is here to assist you during the Coronavirus pandemic. Our AI solution is strictly focused on customer service teams. In times like this we understand your customer service organization needs support. Let’s chat about how AI can provide relief and help scale your team.

References 

  1. CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/11/amazon-is-hiring-3000-remote-workers-in-18-states.html
  2. Yahoo! Finance: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/walmart-to-hire-150000-people-amid-coronavirus-002023425.html
  3. The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/03/customer-service-workers-are-charge-pandemic/607801/
  4. Financial Times: https://www.ft.com/content/5dc60b96-669c-11ea-800d-da70cff6e4d3

When Should I Consider AI Customer Service for My Team

Written by Dylan Max  on   Mar 26, 2020

Pros and Cons of AI Adoption: The 5 biggest reasons why you can’t wait on AI

A question comes up frequently as we talk to companies across various industries: Do we really need AI for customer service now or can we wait six months? What are the pros and cons of adopting AI now? 

Companies can come up with many reasons why they think that bringing AI into the workforce is not immediately necessary. Whether it’s maturity of their business, ticket volume, uncertainty around how to integrate with legacy platforms or anticipated changes to agent systems. These reasons, though, are not enough to delay bringing AI into the customer service workforce.

When you take into account the fundamentals of training an AI, the human agent’s day-to-day responsibilities, evolving customer expectations and the understanding that circumstances can change rapidly overnight, the time to bring AI into your workforce is now. 

The 5 Biggest Reasons Why You Can’t Wait on AI 

AI is the way to provide excellent customer support as your business grows. Here are the five biggest reasons why companies need AI now. 

1. See Immediate Results

The benefits of AI are clear: decrease resolution time, assist agents and increase customer satisfaction (CSAT). On Day 1, AI can start to offload at least 20% of work from agents immediately, resolving issues in seconds. 

The performance of your AI on day 1, though, is much different than how it is performing day 30, 60 and 120. With customer service automation being  a question of not if but when, giving AI as much time to learn and improve will provide the highest ROI and impact on the customer experience. 

This is because AI learns from real interactions. It learns how human agents respond. The more time that AI is interacting with customers, or even working behind-the-scenes drafting replies for agents, it’s getting smarter. Time is the most critical thing when it comes to optimizing an AI.  

Time also provides AI the opportunity to take on more responsibility. Starting out, we recommend focusing on a few key use cases, and as algorithms get adjusted and performance increases, you can expand how many tickets are routed to a virtual agent. WestJet, for instance, automated resolutions to about 30% of tickets on day 1, which has since grown to 74%

2. You never know when the customer service organization will become strained

We’re experiencing this now with the Coronavirus outbreak: customer service teams are on the front lines, dealing with a tsunami of tickets, made more complicated by ever-evolving policies and stressed customers. When a crisis happens —  whether on a global, industry or company-specific level — companies can’t hire a team on the spot, and successfully train and onboard in a matter of hours or days. 

If a company uses AI, it can quickly train a virtual agent how to answer new questions, or update responses related to new business policies. At the very least, AI can resolve everyday tickets, freeing up human agents to work on new and pressing issues.   


Give your customers instant answers to up to 85% of customer service issues with our Zoho chatbot


During times of crisis, the emotional well being of agents can become a concern as stress levels increase, responsibility balloons and workload becomes overwhelming. When agents are supported by AI, there will always be tickets that are being resolved, every second, even as teams regroup and uplift each other. 

Lastly, and this is happening now on a wider scale with the Coronavirus outbreak than ever before, customer service teams are working from home. With disparate teams, it’s difficult to know what individuals are working on. AI is completely measurable and transparent. You know exactly what’s working and not working. 

3. Offload mundane work from agents and minimize attrition

Agents are under more pressure than ever as they have to switch between various systems simultaneously while rushing to close tickets quickly.  Agents are also increasingly engaging with frustrated customers. As a result, customer service remains one of the top jobs for turnover, further ballooning operational costs spent recruiting and onboarding/training new employees.

AI can resolve repeatable, everyday issues like order status and refund requests for retailers, subscription updates for media companies, or early-check in and flight updates for travel companies. We’ve found that for most companies, the same 5-7 customer issues account for more than 50% of all tickets. 

If you use AI to eliminate mindless work and empower agents to focus on more high-touch work, they will be more fulfilled and attrition will decrease. 


Help agents work faster and smarter with a Zoho chatbot.


4. Your customers expect immediacy and convenience

Today’s customers expect effortless resolutions on their terms and increasingly, are making their buying decisions based on the support they receive. According to American Express, 90% of Americans use customer service as a deciding factor when choosing to do business with a company1. According to a Forrester report, respecting people’s time is the most important factor when it comes to customer satisfaction. Even if your brand is automating resolutions to 20% of tickets, ⅕ of your customers will be getting immediate resolutions to their issue within seconds. Resolution time will decrease across the board, as AI assists agents with autonomous resolution, AI-drafted responses and pulling data from multiple business systems. 

5. Offer Proactive Care

Being reactive is simply not enough, companies need to start offering proactive and predictive customer care. In fact, 87% of customers want to be proactively reached out to by a company for customer service related issues2. By empowering AI to act on signals from various systems – whether its logistics or inventory management – you could let a customer know, for instance, that their package dot delayed due to a storm or the product they ordered is now back-ordered. Getting out in front of issues helps salvage customer satisfaction. 

Offering proactive care can also significantly cut costs: over a 12 month period, proactive customer service can lead to a 20-30% reduction in call center calls — lowering call center operating costs by as much as 25%2

The time for companies to adopt AI for customer service is now 

The idea of figuring out the best time to adopt AI reminds me of something someone once told me. The best time to plant a tree was probably about 10 years ago. The second best time is today. 

The time is always right to invest in your agents and customers, and the right systems to turn customer service into a business driver. Good customer service pays dividends right away. Positive experiences are investments in the future of your business. The more you collect earlier on, the more that interest will compound over time. Look for AI solution providers that offer a model where you only pay for the benefits you gain, like full resolution of tickets. 

AI for Customer Service Readiness Assessment  

If you’re still on the fence if you need to adopt AI now, ask yourself a few questions.  

  • Are your customers expecting support on multiple channels – email, chat, messaging, voice, phone?
  • Do you keep your customers waiting for resolutions on any of these channels? 
  • Are you only offering reactive customer service?  
  • Are you experiencing agent attrition? 
  • Are you looking for ways to reign in customer service costs and optimize margins?
  • Do you have a few key issues that account for a large volume of tickets?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, it’s not too early to start exploring AI.

When AI for customer service is not for you 

All of this being said, AI is not for every situation or company. Here are a few reasons why you would not adopt AI at this point in time: 

  1. You’re the first line of defense in emergency situations such as police, fire or health emergencies. 
  2. You manage highly sensitive issues such as offering guidance to people seeking help in critical situations like physical abuse, drug or alcohol, suicide, etc. 
  3. Your customers’ issues are very unique and there is little repetition to your customer service tickets. 
  4. Your agents have a lot of leeway to be subjective and creatively problem solve issues, with little to no consistency in response. 

Can we talk more about whether AI is right for your company?  Let’s chat.

References 

  1. American Express: https://about.americanexpress.com/press-release/wellactually-americans-say-customer-service-better-ever
  2. MyCustomer.com: https://www.mycustomer.com/service/management/infographic-five-stats-that-prove-proactive-customer-service-can-make-you-a

What’s the Best Channel to Launch AI for Customer Service?

Written by Can Ozdoruk  on   Mar 23, 2020

For many reasons, email is the best proving ground for AI and still the most popular digital customer service channel 

As companies race to bring AI into their workforce to meet customer’s quick-rising expectations for effortless and convenient customer service, many struggle with figuring out the right channel to initially launch a support AI. 

Customer service automation started to take off as Web chat and social platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp positioned themselves as ideal channels for 1:1 customer engagement. While these channels offer amazing opportunities for customer service, email has proven to be the ideal channel to launch AI for customer service. This is because email provides an ideal environment for an AI to learn, boost accuracy and confidence, while keeping customer satisfaction high throughout the entire training process. 

In this article we’re going to explore the many reasons that customer service email is the best initial channel to launch AI for customer service. Skip to a specific section, or read our in-depth analysis of why email is supreme. 

But first, the trouble with first-generation chatbots 

In the past few years, we’ve seen many companies introduce basic chatbots. These first-generation bots that were dedicated to customer service, though, overwhelmingly failed.

Instead of delivering on the promise of convenience, these bots damaged the customer experience. This is because basic chatbots lack natural language understanding (NLU) and limited the user to clicks or keywords. Chatbot tools have very rigid decision trees, and it’s nearly impossible for users to redirect the bot in a new direction once it starts on a journey. Customers had little control over the conversation, ultimately leading to desperate attempts to be connected with a human on another channel (with customer satisfaction [CSAT] diminishing, and costs increasing, with each passing second.

The best chatbots are more often actually classified as Conversational AI, but the terminology between the two has become quite ambiguous over time. Rules-based Chatbots differ from modern Conversational AI platforms for many reasons, but primarily because AI has advanced NLU capabilities. People are free to explain their issue or ask a question in their own words, as if they were interacting with a human agent. Getting an AI Agent to perform at this level, though, requires specific training which is well suited for the email channel.  

Omni-channel is important, but with Support AI lead with email 

While offering omnichannel customer service is becoming increasingly important, launching an AI across multiple channels at once is not attainable for most companies, or frankly, recommended. This is because each channel has a different mode of communication. Think about it: how you text, send an email or talk on the phone are extremely unique.  

Chat and social messaging are typically a stream of very short messages. You might send multiple in a row, perhaps using abbreviations, short-form text or digital slang like emojis. On the other hand, emails are longer, sometimes with multiple questions, or more in-depth information and attachments. This is because the number of back-and-forth interactions on email is generally less, but contain much more detail within each exchange. 

When it comes to adopting customer support AI, each channel comes with varying levels of risk and requires nuanced training to provide a positive customer experience. 


Discover the key questions to ask when scheduling a chatbot demo.


The key is asynchronous conversation: Why email is the ideal channel strategy to roll out AI-powered customer service  

Like a human employee, AI learns on the job. While AI systems are initially trained using historical customer service data, a Support AI continuously improves based on real interactions, learning the various ways a person might ask a question. Over time, AI learns how sentiment and context impact what a customer needs and the best course of action to take, truly replicating a human agent.

On email, companies can enable AI to learn on the job without ever interacting with a real customer. When a new ticket comes in, AI can recommend responses to human agents, instead of automating a response directly back to the customer. AI will learn and re-tool based on how human agents respond: reinforcing a positive behavior or adjusting wrong behavior. 

This is possible because on email, there is no expectation from a customer for an immediate response.  The delay when an agent is accepting, rejecting or editing an AI-recommendation does not even register for the customer. Compare this to a chat conversation where people expect an immediate response and synchronous conversation. This “agent-review” time (and ensuing AI training) would not be possible due to the expectation of a response in a few short seconds. 

Once AI has boosted its accuracy behind the scenes, it can start responding to emails directly, freeing up human agents to solely focus on more complex tickets, which is where true cost savings and operational efficiency will take hold. 


Check out The Ultimate Guide to Delivering Exceptional Customer Support in 2022.


Email Support AI will always meet customer expectations: Comparing expectations for immediacy across channels  

When thinking about what channels to extend customer service automation following email, a good rule of thumb is to consider how quickly people expect a response. 

On social messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger or Twitter DM, faster responses are expected as compared to email, but expectations are still not for real-time, synchronous interaction. This does allow companies to have an agent-review period and behind-the-scenes training, although there is more pressure for a faster response time. This “incubation” period will likely be shorter as messages are typically easier for an AI to parse, as compared to email. 

Now, let’s consider Web chat. Here, waiting even 30 seconds is not acceptable to many customers. This is because they can’t go about other business and walk away from the screen, coming back for a response when it’s convenient for them. A person is stuck on a Web page until their issue is resolved. Having an agent-review mode is not ideal here due to these immediacy requirements. If a company has gone through the process of agent supervision training on messaging and email, though, a much more accurate and confident AI agent can easily be launched on chat.

Finally, we get to emerging voice support channels like Google Assistant and Alexa. Synchronous, real-time interaction is the norm. Because these channels are more complex and expensive to introduce a support AI, we recommend exploring these channels only after more traditional digital channels have launched and are performing with high accuracy. 

Beyond Asynchronicity: Even more benefits of email

More than offering great real-world training benefits, email is actually how people want to get in touch with companies. In a recent survey, we found that 47% people prefer to contact a company for customer service over email than any other channel. Email beat phone (23%), Web chat (23%) and social messaging sites (2%). 

Email is inherently more convenient than other channels as it is a part of every consumer’s daily habits – from Generation Z to Baby Boomers. Email is readily accessible on all of their devices, there’s always a record of the conversation and people don’t need to wait around to carry on a back-and-forth chat or phone call. The entire interaction is on a customer’s terms – exactly how it should be. 

Email also provides great cost savings opportunities: 

  • Companies tend to have more historical email data as compared to other channels as it is the original digital customer service channel. This decreases initial training time and associated costs. 
  • Email continuously generates a high volume of new tickets which helps the AI to ramp up quickly. 
  • If a customer is not satisfied with an AI response on chat, voice or social, they will reach out on another channel, driving up the cost of resolving the ticket. When an email Support AI is trained under agent supervision, a human always has the final say in what is sent to a customer.

The future is every channel, but email is your best first bet 

Customers want convenient, effortless resolutions. To meet these demands, AI adoption is ramping up. Use of AI by customer service teams is projected to increase by 143% over the next 18 months1

While it might sound counterintuitive, companies should take AI one channel at a time as it will result in better customer experiences and most cost savings in a shorter amount of time. For many reasons, email needs to be the first channel companies tackle with AI, or they risk negatively impacting customer satisfaction while increasing costs.

Can we analyze your historical email data and identify the best issues you can automatically resolve with AI?  Get in touch

References

  1. Salesforce: https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2019/03/customer-service-trends.html – learn more about our Salesforce chatbot solutions by clicking the link.

Voice Is The Next Customer Support Frontier

Written by Emily Cummins  on   Mar 11, 2020

Adoption of smart speakers and other devices with built-in virtual assistants will create a big demand for customer support that’s simply spoken out loud. 

OK Google. Ask [Retailer] where my order is. 

Alexa. Ask [Airline] if my flight is on time. 

Smart virtual assistants are literally everywhere – our phones, stand-alone devices sitting on our countertops, TVs, refrigerators, cars. We no longer have to lift a finger to learn the weather, understand the traffic on our commute or convert a measurement.  And soon, getting customer support will be a few spoken words away. 

Companies like Domino’s jumped in early to enable various parts of the customer journey hands-free. People can order a pizza from Domino’s without lifting a finger and clicking through an app, navigating the web or speaking with a human on the phone.  WestJet now offers guests a new hands and screen-free way to get answers to questions about flight status, travel documentation and baggage allowances.  It’s effortless on overdrive. 

More and more, companies are starting to enable various tasks through these incredibly popular voice channels. The most exciting opportunity that solves a real business problem, though, is providing customer support on devices like Alexa and Google Home. 

In this post, we’re going to explore the support opportunity on voice, ideal use cases for the unique channel, how to create an engaging experience, and considerations around privacy and brand safety

The Customer is Listening: Adoption of smart speakers is rampant 

One in four Americans own smart speakers like Alexa or Google Home1. People don’t just own smart speakers, but they are using them frequently: 27% use it nearly every day and 33% report using it multiple times a day2

The incredible adoption rate has been paired with a change in consumer preferences for customer support. In just a few short years, 34% of consumers now say they would prefer to receive customer support via a smart speaker as opposed to calling a customer service line to speak to a human3. When you consider that smart speakers are still in their infancy, this rate of change is significant and signals a real opportunity for companies to resolve issues and answer questions via this channel. 

What customer support issues can be resolved on voice channels?

When we start to think about the types of situations that could be resolved on voice, it’s important to understand how people are using the devices and what they are comfortable doing on them. 

Three out of every four consumers (74%) are using their mobile voice assistants at home and primarily for basic tasks3. These include checking weather or news, setting an alarm or reminder, or looking up something that was previously done on a search engine. We’re not turning to voice assistants in overly complex situations. In fact, The New York Times found that people are often multitasking when they interact with their smart speakers: “People are using smart speakers most at transitional moments, like getting ready for the day and preparing dinner once they get home1.“

With all of this in mind, companies should identify high-volume and simple support queries. This aligns perfectly with the use cases that should be delegated to an AI Agent. Here are a few topics that would work extremely well on voice: 

  • FAQs: 59% of people have asked a quick question to a smart speaker3. Companies should identify the types of FAQs that people ask the most, such as baggage policies for an airline, check-out / check-in times for a hotel, or refund and return policies for a retailer. Don’t overcomplicate with too much information, but provide quick, clear answers. 
  • Status: Providing real-time status of a reservation, flight or order also represents great use cases for voice. This may require an additional level of authentication to provide the individual’s exact information, but is also a typically high-volume use case that would provide convenience for a big percentage of customers.  
  • Modifications, Cancellations and Upgrades: Allow customers to make meaningful changes to an existing order or reservation. For instance, an airline can allow a person to ask if there are upgrades on their flight this afternoon while they are zipping up their suitcase. Similarly, a subscription box company could allow a person to skip a delivery without having to log-in to their account on the web. 

Click here for more information on customer support.


Nailing the conversational experience on voice 

If you build it, they may come, and they may or may not come back. 

There’s a lot more than figuring out the ideal use cases for voice and training an AI to respond. You also need to consider the personality, promotion and safeguards to keep customers happy. 

The most critical thing for a voice assistant is its ability to properly classify a person’s intent. In a survey, over 50% of respondents say “How well it understands me…” is the most important factor in determining the user experience4. This accuracy will evolve during training, ideally from historical support data from other channels, but perhaps most importantly, call center data.  

That being said, you also need to consider the personality and conversational elements of the virtual assistant. Is it funny or serious? Is it chatty or direct? 

In a study, Mirroring to Build Trust in Digital Assistants, researchers found that  70% of participants preferred interacting with a chatty digital assistant as compared to a non-chatty one5.  However, “the likability and trustworthiness of a digital assistant improves when the assistant mirrors the degree of chattiness of the user.” Training an AI to “mirror” the personality of a user can be done based on things like mannerisms, number of words use, frequency of interaction and tone. Eventually, companies can have virtual assistants that can take on a few different personalities based on the user – answering a question more direct or more chatty, with humor or without, and provide an experience that the customer loves. 

As with an AI agent on any channel, you must provide a clear way to connect with a human if the customer grows frustrated or the AI can’t understand what the user needs. Train the voice assistant to read out a phone number or offer to send a text or email if it senses a user is irritable or gets stuck. 

Companies will also need to educate people that support is available via these voice platforms. Having the information on a Contact Us page is a very basic example, but critical because discoverability is solely based on a person explicitly enabling or opening a company’s skill.  

Voice customer support comes with certain brand safety and privacy nuances 

When you launch automated customer service on any channel, you must take proper steps to ensure brand safety and data security. Voice, however, has a few extra considerations. 

First of all, there are often multiple users of a single device, including over 2.2 million children who are playing music, asking questions and hearing jokes6. Research shows that children are not misusing these devices, but brands need to ensure all content is suitable for younger audiences. Additionally, put the proper safeguards like double authentication in place to ensure children are not empowered to make changes on an account, spend money, etc. without parental consent.   

Additionally, people are weary about surveillance and spying. According to Pew Research, “54% of smart speaker owners say they are very or somewhat concerned about the amount of personal data their speakers collect3.” Ensure that when your skill is enabled, you are not collecting or storing any unnecessary data.  

Voice is a part of a larger omnichannel experience for a customer support strategy 

Voice is an exciting opportunity: it’s the newest channel that certainly has the “cool” factor. With customer demand for convenient support on the rise, it’s compelling for many companies to offer answers to questions and resolve common issues without a customer having to lift a finger. That being said, we don’t recommend launching a Support AI on voice. For historical and ongoing training purposes, ROI and business value, text-based channels like email should be where companies should get started with AI. Once an AI has learned and improved over time, voice is a great channel to scale to. 

Do you want to try AI before you buy? We’re now offering a free 30 day trial. Start yours today

References 

  1. The New York Times: https://open.nytimes.com/how-might-the-new-york-times-sound-on-smart-speakers-3b59a6a78ae3 
  2. National Public Media: https://www.nationalpublicmedia.com/uploads/2020/01/The-Smart-Audio-Report-Winter-2019.pdf 
  3. PWC: https://www.pwc.com/us/en/services/consulting/library/consumer-intelligence-series/voice-assistants.html 
  4. Voicebot.AI: https://voicebot.ai/2018/12/13/consumers-want-understanding-over-personality-from-voice-assistants-games-arent-on-their-radar-new-data/
  5. Arxiv.org: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1904.01664.pdf
  6. eMarketer: https://www.emarketer.com/content/the-smart-speaker-series-kids-teens-infographic

Coronavirus and Customer Service: 5 Ways to Optimize Customer Support Operations in Stressful Times

Written by Dylan Max  on   Mar 9, 2020

Nearly every company is experiencing some level of adversity from the Coronavirus. According to an opinion article in The New York Times, “The outbreak threatens the stability of everything from information systems to Amazon orders1.”

Travel-related customer service Google searches have shot up 888% between mid-February and mid-March 2020 compared to a 30-day average between 2004 and 2020 (79% of top trending queries compared to 8% of top trending queries).

Source: Google Trends

Airlines and hotels are managing last-minute cancellations and addressing travel safety concerns. Retailers, too, are struggling: 24% of British retailers said supply chain disruption was having a significant impact on their business, which could lead to delivery delays2. Grocery and food delivery companies, on the other hand, are expected to see a surge in orders as people isolate themselves with “social distancing measures3.”

How do businesses handle the threat of Coronavirus?

There’s the element of hygiene that we’re all familiar with: washing our hands, staying home when we’re sick, cleaning our keyboards and our phones4. These tactics are critical to containing the spread of the virus. But responding to COVID-19 ripple far beyond the medical-related.

Customer Service and the Coronavirus

The outbreak is catapulting customer service operations into the spotlight. In times of adversity, new issues arise and we see an uptick in ticket volume. Stressed customers want answers quickly. Companies need to adjust; they need to respond quickly, be transparent, and communicative.

It’s no surprise that “customer service” as a topic has the highest trending search volume in March 2020 than any other March over the last two decades.

“Customer Service” as a topic has the highest trending search volume in March 2020 than any other March over the last two decades.

In this article, we’re exploring how companies can optimize their AI customer support operations in stressful times, like during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Five Ways to Optimize Customer Support to Deal with the Coronavirus Outbreak

1. Provide Proactive Communication

Notify customers as soon as your company knows that there could be an issue or unforeseen circumstance.

For example, one industry that is feeling a huge impact from the Coronavirus is the wedding industry. Delayed fabric and wedding dress shipments are leading to wedding dresses being delayed up to six weeks, or more5. Retailers must keep brides in the loop as soon as a delay is anticipated. From there, they can offer actionable advice or alternative solutions.

This reminds me of how Odwalla Foods managed a recall after an e-Coli outbreak that led to the death of one child6. The company took out full-page newspaper ads to clearly explain the situation and new safety measures underway.

2. Be Available, Always

In 1982, Tylenol faced a crisis when pills that had been laced with cyanide led to the deaths of seven people in Chicago. The company immediately recalled  31 million bottles, sent 400,000+ warning messages to doctors’ offices and pharmacies and set up a 24/7 hotline to answer questions around-the-clock7.

People today expect immediate, convenient resolutions to their issues – even more so in stressful times. Like Tylenol, companies need to scale a 24/7 customer service operation to answer questions. Unlike in the 1980s, companies don’t have to rely on a human-only workforce, which is difficult to scale up in times of emergency. Today, companies are bringing AI customer service into the workforce to offset the costs of ramping up hiring, onboarding, and training of human agents. Scaling support across every digital channel including email, chat, messaging, social, as well as SMS customer service – is now more crucial than ever before.

Virtual agents can respond to repeatable tickets and act as the first line of defense – gathering information from a customer before handing off to a human agent. Whether resolving autonomously or acting as a co-pilot to human agents, virtual agents will help to significantly decrease resolution time, getting customers the answers they need quickly.

In addition to providing faster resolution to issues, this is also a smart move for companies looking to improve the response rate and ratings in their customer satisfaction surveys.

3. Prioritize the Long-Term Value of Your Customer

In February 2007, a powerful ice storm rocked the east coast. As a result, JetBlue canceled 1,000 flights in five days, leaving people stranded in airports for days and some stranded on the jetway at JFK for eight hours8. The company took responsibility, didn’t blame the weather, and apologized. As a result, the airline launched a Passenger’s Bill of Rights that “would financially penalize JetBlue and reward passengers for any repeat of the current upheaval.”9

With the Coronavirus, some customers might want to cancel an order due to delayed delivery or want to cancel a trip over fears of contracting the virus. This is a stressful situation for both the customer and the agent. The way businesses treat their customers in times of stress is imperative. A positive experience will pay lasting dividends in your relationship. However, a negative customer experience during this time could sever the relationship completely. Treat customers well in times of stress, and watch loyalty solidify.

4. Let AI identify new issues, route accordingly and learn from human agents

Virtual agents can quickly uncover new patterns and potential situations that a company needs to prepare for and respond to. For instance, if there is a spike in customers asking about delays or refunds or complaints around potentially contracting a virus at a specific location, AI can route these trending topics to customer service management.

In response to the Coronavirus, Gartner suggests that companies “use chatbot AI in digital channels to address the most commonly asked questions to offload volumes to service agents.”  

Many customers’ needs in a crisis qualify as high-risk or critical and should be routed to human agents. However, there are some situations, like simple policy or refund eligibility questions, that AI could manage. When human agents are overloaded with a spike in tickets, keeping mundane tickets out of their cone of responsibility will be essential for agent and customer satisfaction (CSAT).

Initially, AI and chatbot tools can monitor how human agents respond. Eventually, AI will earn the authority to interact directly with customers on these new issues.

If your company hasn’t yet brought AI into your organization, Gartner suggests that you “find vendors and test solutions quickly.” The analyst firm recommends companies “prioritize solutions that are easy to implement.” In times of stress, companies can’t afford to delay, slow implementations.

5. Update the tone and conversational design of your virtual agents

Depending on your business and how closely you’re affected by the Coronavirus, you may need to update the tone of your virtual agents or provide specific information upfront. For instance, Cruise Lines would want to immediately provide an update on policies and procedures, instead of greeting someone with a meme on getting away for Spring Break.

It’s important to surface the right information immediately. Don’t make your customers search for information. Proactively communicate relevant information immediately, and keep the tone appropriate for your customers’ context.

The Coronavirus is creating crisis-management situations for a lot of companies. Customers are going to have more questions and issues during times like this. Make sure that you’re bringing together machine and human intelligence to provide excellent customer service. It’s the companies that are proactive, transparent and flexible that will be the heroes in their customers’ eyes.

Business stressors are as unpredictable as they are unavoidable. Looking to optimize your customer service operations during stressful times? Let’s chat.

To get more of our insights on retail customer service before you contact us to request a demo.

References

  1. The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/02/opinion/coronavirus-economy-amazon-uber.html 
  2. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/mar/04/uk-retailers-hit-by-supply-disruption-amid-coronavirus-concerns 
  3. MarketWatch: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/if-the-coronavirus-spreads-in-america-food-delivery-companies-could-see-a-surge-in-demand-are-they-ready-2020-02-28 
  4. CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html  
  5. Fox News: https://www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/california-bridal-boutique-coronavirus-wedding-dress-delays 
  6. BizJournals: https://www.bizjournals.com/portland/stories/1996/11/18/editorial3.html 
  7. CommuniquePR: https://www.communiquepr.com/the-tylenol-murders-a-case-study/9950/ 
  8. CNNMoney: https://money.cnn.com/2014/01/07/news/companies/jetblue/
  9. The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/19/business/19jetblue.html

WestJet Brings Successful Netomi-Powered Virtual Agent, Juliet, to WhatsApp

Written by Shobhit Agrawal  on   Mar 5, 2020

The airline now provides immediate answers and customer service resolutions on the world’s most popular messaging platform

With two billion users worldwide, WhatsApp is the most preferred messaging platform. WestJet customers can now interact with the Netomi-powered virtual agent, Juliet, and receive instant, immediate resolutions to questions ranging from flight status, upgrades, baggage policies and more. The launch is part of the Canadian airline’s larger initiative to transform the guest experience with AI and digital innovation, which already includes AI customer support from Juliet on Facebook Messenger and Google Assistant

Juliet is powered by Netomi’s powerful AI customer service platform, which seamlessly integrates within Sprinklr, a customer experience management platform. Netomi’s AI works alongside human agents, resolving over 74% of tickets immediately without any human intervention. Human agents are empowered to spend all of their time on the more complex, sensitive customer needs. Now, no matter the issue, travelers are no longer kept waiting for the information they need prior, during and after a trip. 

“In the airline industry there is little differentiation between seats. Customer service is now a key way to secure reservations and build long-term loyalty. Today, good customer service is defined by convenience, effortlessness and immediacy. By bringing Juliet to one of the world’s most popular messaging platforms, over two billion people can get the information they need in between chats with friends and family. We’re setting the bar for what defines convenient support at a much higher altitude than we’ve ever seen,” said Netomi Founder / CEO, Puneet Mehta. 

With Juliet, the guest experience has has reached new heights  

Juliet initially launched on Messenger in October 2018. Ever since, Juliet has made a significant impact on the customer experience and customer service operations with these customer service KPIs:  

  • 24% increase in customer satisfaction (CSAT)
  • 74% of tickets are resolved by AI without human intervention 
  • 5X increase in capacity of the customer service team  
  • 96% improvement in response time  

Following the success on Messenger, WestJet brought Juliet to Google Assistant. With this launch, guests could receive support by simply speaking out loud. 

“We’re so incredibly proud to partner with WestJet to transform the airline’s customer service with AI.  The success of Juliet on other channels to date has been unrivaled – and we’re so excited to see the impact of Juliet’s five-star service on customer satisfaction and other key customer service metrics on this exciting new channel,” continued Mehta. 

Read about Juliet’s incredible journey!

5 Ways Customer Service Managers Can Create a Better Experience With AI

Written by Hannah Wren  on   Mar 3, 2020

AI for customer service is no longer a new technology. It’s now table stakes for providing a great customer experience. Increasingly, customer service managers are incorporating the technology in their strategies to empower agents to build better relationships with customers. And it pays off—Zendesk’s Customer Experience Trends Report 2020 found that high-performing customer experience teams are twice as likely to embrace artificial intelligence (AI)

Here are five ways customer service managers can enable their teams to deliver fast, personalized, and proactive support experiences with the help of AI.

1. Make strikingly accurate and fast predictions

Machine learning and deep learning are two types of AI that use algorithms to parse data, learn from that data, and make strikingly accurate and fast predictions based on what it has learned. Customer service managers are using these machine-aided predictions to boost agent performance.

For example, Pinterest’s customer service team uses machine learning to predict customer satisfaction during live interactions with customers, before they take a satisfaction survey. This enables agents to salvage the experience before it goes south and proactively handle customer complaints. 

Other customer service teams are using AI-powered performance management tools, like Dōjō, which combines AI and gamification to make predictions about overall agent performance and provide them with meaningful recommendations for reaching team goals.

2. Improve self-service 

Research is clear: Customers want the option to help themselves. And Zendesk’s Trends Report uncovered a compelling link between customer success, AI use and customer self service. In fact, 84% of managers using AI to help customers have a self-service strategy in place.

Knowledge-base content is rarely evergreenit needs to be regularly updated to stay relevant for its audience. AI can suggest new help center articles to write and flag existing ones to update based on trends in customer inquiries. For instance, if a rising number of customers are asking questions about your return policy, machines can proactively flag this trend and suggest related article topics that best meet customers’ needs. 

AI-powered solutions can also help teams put their self-service resources to use to reduce agent workload and deflect repetitive, frequently asked questions to virtual assistants. For example, Dollar Shave Club deployed a virtual assistant to answer common questions that members could easily solve on their own, such as how to cancel or pause their accounts. 


Help agents work faster and smarter with a Zoho chatbot


3. Enable 24/7, always-on support

24/7 service is important now more than ever as support is increasingly changing from in-person appointments only to 24-hour account access, and customers expect support teams to keep up. In fact, 89% of customers say getting a quick response is important when making decisions about which companies to buy from. 

Besides helping customers help themselves, AI-powered assistants are essential to providing fast, always-on support. It wouldn’t be practical for your agents to wait online for every visitor that comes across your website, but a virtual assistant can proactively welcome customers and give them the opportunity to ask questions, before they abandon their cart. 

4. Personalize interactions

While consumers tend to prefer AI agents for quick fixes and simple issues, they often still want to speak with a human for more complex problems, like ordering food for ten different people or handling bank fraud. For higher stakes situations like these, virtual assistants can seamlessly hand off the conversation to a human and relay relevant information to make the experience more personal. 

For example, a virtual assistant can track if a customer has tried to self-solve their issue already and let the agent know which help center articles and webpages the customer has visited. When agents have immediate access to that relevant context and background information, the experience feels more personal because agents don’t have to waste time repeating answers the customer has already seen.


Looking to give your customers a more personalized experience? Check out this comparison of Intercom vs. Zendesk before you choose a platform.


5. Provide a more human agent experience 

According to McKinsey, just 4% of the work activities in the US involve creativity at a median human level of performance, and only 29% involve sensing emotion at a median human level of performance. AI can help customer service managers provide a more human agent experience by letting machines handle the repetitive tasks that lead to agent burnout. 

This allows agents to focus their time on more engaging tasks that require empathy, creativity, and more complex problem-solving. And investing in the agent experience pays off–CSAT ratings for agents increase by 2.3% every year they stay on the same team, according to Zendesk’s Trends Report.

To create a more engaging agent experience, some companies are using AI to automate the translation of tickets in other languages, fostering a more inclusive customer service in addition to giving agents time back for less manual and more engaging work. Or, AI can populate responses right inside a ticket, suggesting sentence completions and macro predictions based on key terms and phrases, so agents don’t have to spend time searching for answers or typing out repetitive sentences. 

The key to successfully incorporating AI in your customer service strategy is to approach it as something that empowers your agents to work better and smarternot as something that is meant to replace them. And when a customer service manager gets that agent-machine partnership right, they have the secret sauce for delivering a fast, personalized, and proactive AI customer experience

Hannah Wren is a Content Marketing Associate at Zendesk. 

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