The Fourth Wave of Customer Service: From Call Center to AI-Powered Full Resolution

Written by Can Ozdoruk  on   Dec 30, 2020

Customer service is undergoing an evolution that is drastically changing the way companies interact with customers. At a time when the customer experience is driving loyalty and directly influences where customers spend their money, companies are racing to meet expectations for immediate, convenient support. While the digital transformation since the 1990s has led to lower resolution times and better customer experiences, the AI-powered customer service that is happening now is omni-channel, proactive and innately customer-centric. 

The evolution of customer service has focused on reducing resolution times 

In the 1960s, the first call centers and 1-800 numbers arrived for customer service. It wasn’t uncommon for a person to wait on hold to speak to an agent, which added up to over 13 hours annually1. This was accepted as normal, albeit frustrating. The experience of waiting on the phone was similar no matter the company or industry. 

In the 1990s, email emerged as a support channel that offered many benefits: customers didn’t have to wait on the line for an agent, the conversation happened on the customers terms and there was always a record of the interaction to access at a later date. In the 2000s, the second shift emerged driven by three major changes. First, centralized agent desk platforms like Zendesk and Zendesk alternatives allowed companies to move away from siloed call centers, agent teams and inboxes to house all customer communication in one central repository. Second, was the proliferation of outsourced call centers which enabled 24/7 support. Lastly, the emergence of social media as a means for customers to ask questions – or in many cases publicly shame companies for poor experiences. 

The third wave in the late 2010s delivered live chat software and basic rudimentary chatbots. More digitization of support was underway to give faster service, and again, eliminate hold and decrease resolution times. 

Learn how a virtual contact center differs from a traditional call center.

The modern customer expects more, and is quick to take their business elsewhere   

During this time, though, something started to shift: customer expectations. Companies like Zappos and Virgin Airlines set a new standard for customer-centric experiences. Customers carried these expectations forward to every company they interacted with. More so, in a time when Amazon will make deliveries via drones and 5G is the norm giving us greater bandwidth and higher download speeds, the expectation for immediacy in telecom customer service is overwhelming. Customers refuse to be on hold or wait for an answer – even on nights or weekends – and want to reach out on their channel of choice. This shift in customer expectations has a bigger impact than just on the CX alone. Sixty-two billion in revenue is lost in the US each year due to poor customer service. These customers chose to not do further business with a company because they had a bad customer experience. 

The fourth wave of AI-powered customer service has a new KPI: Full Resolution 

These expectations from the customer for convenience and immediacy has brought a fourth wave of omni-channel, 24/7 customer service. To scale this effort, companies are adopting AI to automate full resolutions across channels. 

During the third wave, auto-responders gave the impression of being responsive and scripted chatbots pointed customers to articles. The main KPI was deflecting customers away from asking to speak to a human agent.

During this newest wave, though, the focus is on the full resolution of issues. AI-powered customer service leverages automation and machine learning to: 

  • Act as the first line of defense to resolve everyday, repetitive tickets, which frees up human agents to resolve complex issues 
  • Augment live agent efforts by gathering information from the customer, suggesting responses and pulling information from other systems 
  • Anticipate issues to provide proactive and predictive support, resolving issues before they even exist such as prompting someone to repurchase ink when they are about to run out or letting a person know an order will be delayed 

WestJet, for instance, is using AI to resolve 87% of its tickets without human intervention. This enabled the company to instantly scale its support operations when volume increased 45-fold in March as a result of the covid-19 crisis. HP, too, is successfully embracing this fourth wave. It anticipates when customers will run low on ink and alerts them at the exact moment of relevancy. 

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

Conclusion: This new wave of AI-powered customer service can’t be ignored 

In six decades, we’ve gone from picking up the phone to AI being the first line of defense for customer inquiries. This shift has been driven by a new way of thinking from customers. The task of being the liaison between customers and business systems used to lie with agents, a burdensome and labor intensive process that saw agents access multiple systems at once to resolve tickets. Now, customers are reaching out on their channel of choice and an AI-powered system of intelligence is helping agents bridge the gap to provide the best customer experience we’ve ever seen.

Companies can’t ignore this new wave of customer service: customer relationships and revenue have never been more closely tied with the C/X. Without the use of AI to scale the support that people expect, companies will get left behind.  

Are you ready to take full advantage of this new wave of AI-powered customer service? Let’s chat



Retail Customer Service: Everything you need to know about what it is and where it’s heading

Written by Can Ozdoruk  on   Dec 23, 2020

What is retail customer service?

Retail customer service is the assistance and advice provided to those who buy or use products. The Oxford Dictionary defines customer service as a service specifically provided by a company. As the industry evolves, we’ve seen many cases where communities unaffiliated with the company can also engage in the practice. 

Interestingly enough, the next search result for “customer service definition” on Google comes from Investopedia. This indicates that customer service has very much turned into a business-driver and helps a retailer’s bottom line.

You can watch their very 90’s-style explainer video on the state of customer service below.

Source: Investopedia

While some things never change, this is not the case for the retail industry. Retail is a very competitive industry. Companies are increasingly turning to AI to solve large-scale business problems, including the top retail customer service challenges. But before we get into customer service strategy, let’s start with the basics.

To download a copy of our Retail Customer Service Benchmark report, visit here.

Online shopping is shaping retail trends

Shopping patterns for traditional brick and mortar retail are shifting drastically. Emerging online companies are capturing the hearts and wallets of consumers. Off-price retailers are taking away a growing share of the market. As the ecosystem of retailers competing on a global scale rapidly evolves, customer expectations are also rising quickly. To combat this, and to increase retail sales, many retailers are adding Shopify chatbots and other technology to increase customer experience. 

However, companies can no longer rely primarily on product ingenuity. Salesforce found that 66% of customers say it takes more for a company to impress them with new products and services than ever before. In what used to be an after-thought for many retailers, customer support is establishing a strong foothold in the shopping experience, often dictating people’s buying habits.

The importance of customer service in retail

Customers anticipate getting a quick, personalized resolution on their channel of choice. 24/7 support is no longer a perk, it’s an expectation. In fact, 9 out of 10 consumers say they would pay more to ensure excellent customer service.

Unfortunately, providing a great customer service experience is much easier said than done.

Retailers often struggle to keep up with the rising tide of increasing ticket volumes when it’s more critical than ever to stay afloat. According to Zendesk, 97% of U.S. consumers say bad customer service changes their buying habits. AI can help retailers resolve over 50% of customer service tickets on email support, chat, social, and voice.

Here’s what customers say about what they expect from retailers in 2020 and beyond:

To download a copy of our full Customer Service Benchmark report for Retailers, click here.

7 Retail Customer Service Tips and Best Practices:

  1. Keep the focus on the customer: Immediacy and convenience are what customers expect when they reach out to a retailer with a question or an issue. Retailers need to focus on resolving tickets quickly and making experiences as effortless as possible.
  2. Address your customers by name: Bring in the human element. Personalize conversations by using customers’ first names. Retailers should also empower human and agents who provide automated support to access historical data and past conversations to further contextualize every interaction.
  3. Provide an omnichannel experience: Empower your customers to get in touch on their channel of choice, whether it’s email, social media, messaging, live chat, phone, or voice assistants.
  4. Carry the context forward from channel to channel: If a customer reaches out on one channel, they should be able to pick up where they left off if the next touchpoint happens on a different channel. Don’t make customers repeat themselves or start a conversation order – even if they channel hop.
  5. Be available all the time: Customers expect resolutions quickly, even if an issue arises on nights, weekends, or on holidays. Adopting a customer service chatbot can help retailers provide around-the-clock support, 24/7.
  6. Get out in front of issues with proactive support: Retailers should leverage AI and predictive analytics to anticipate when an issue may arise and proactively reach out to a customer. If an order is going to be delayed, for instance, alert the customer immediately saving them the hassle of needing to inquire about a missing package.
  7. Upsell and cross-sell only when it’s hyper-relevant: The last thing a retailer wants to do is rub a customer the wrong way and seem pushy. AI can help retailers understand with high precision the best times for a virtual or human agent to cross-sell and upsell, and identify the best recommendations based on the customer.

AI is solving retail’s biggest customer service challenges

Retailers are turning to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve everything from operations and inventory management to create good customer service and loyal customers. AI adoption is ramping up quickly. Estimates for global retail spend on AI top $7.3 billion per year by 2022 according to Juniper Research. 

Operators of retail businesses are adopting AI to solve large-scale business problems, including the top customer service challenges. By bringing AI into the workforce retailers augment the work of human agents to delight customers with quick resolutions across channels.


Stores in the retail industry are changing faster than ever as they shift to online stores. Successful retailers have always placed an emphasis on providing top-tier service to improve the retail customer experience.

Traditionally, that meant training your employees on some very specific customer service strategies. The way to do that in this digital world we live in today is changing the whole ball game.

AI can help retailers resolve over 50% of customer service tickets on email, live chat, social media, and voice (an emerging – and powerful channel) within seconds. Human agents are freed up to focus solely on complex, high-touch customer needs. Customers love immediate resolutions. Human agents are more fulfilled. As a result, the customer feels good and agent happiness soars. 

The state of retail customer service (eBook)

We have published several world-renowned reports on how retailers are stepping up their customer service skills and encouraging customer loyalty with AI.

Click any of the links below to get more of our insights on retail customer service before you learn more about our solutions for chatbots in retail.

Find out what your ROI will be if you build an AI chatbot tool. Try our free chatbot ROI calculator.

New eBook: Streaming Video Competition Is Brutal. Your Customer Experience Needs To Be Stellar.

Written by Emily Cummins  on   Dec 21, 2020

Our latest ebook looks at brilliant customer experience is essential for streaming video companies to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment. 

There are hundreds of streaming video companies competing for customer attention and wallet share. Consumption and subscription data shows signs that customers are approaching a saturation point with streaming video services, with rising churn and plateauing consumption.

To win in this environment, customer experience (CX) can be a decisive differentiator that builds loyalty, increases sign-ups and reduces churn. Conversational AI, delivered as a service, can play a crucial part in empowering Subscription Video-On-Demand (SVODs) to up their CX game quickly and effectively – leveraging cutting-edge AI  to deliver a Netflix-grade CX at a fraction of the cost. 

Poor CX Is Now An Existential Risk to Streaming Video Companies

A poor customer experience is an existential risk to a streaming video company. The switching costs from one service to the next is nearly zero. Recognizing this, consumers are showing an increasing tendency to cycle through streaming services regularly. For companies offering a free trial, making the upgrade process as seamless and straightforward as possible is paramount. SVOD companies that are losing or missing favorite programming face unhappy customers. For companies that have repeated service delivery problems, properly communicating, and managing customer expectations is a thorny yet critical task.

Against this backdrop, streaming video companies must seek to constantly improve their customer experience offerings at all levels in order to stay competitive and relevant. An immediate response to any customer need is not table stakes. Legacy customer experience improvement paradigms, including self-service menus and simplistic, rules-driven chatbots, are no longer sufficient; in fact, those measures in a vacuum can lead to worse customer experiences and greater churn.

This improvement generally requires that streaming video companies leverage modern machine learning and AI technologies to streamline and simplify key experience milestones such as upgrades, hacked accounts and account setting changes. The AI must be smart enough to work quickly and intelligently and wise enough to know when to pass a customer query off to a human representative. 

Now Streaming Video Companies Must Compete on Customer Experience

With competition so fierce, the low-hanging subscriber fruit is picked; to maintain their subscriber rolls and be more successful at winning over new subscribers from tight competition, streaming video companies need to think about upping their CX game to:

  • Improve conversions from free trial or ad-supported to paid higher tiers
  • Improve CSAT and NPS through superior customer service
  • Create innovative ways to increase stream starts and consumption
  • Reduce churn by inserting smart or proactive retention offers 

AI Use Cases for Streaming Video Companies to improve the Customer Experience 

Developments in machine learning and AI for CX and Customer Support are making it easier for streaming brands to deliver more personalized, more precise, and more enjoyable CX and support experiences to customers in any language and any channel.  For streaming video providers, Conversational AI has multiple critical potential use cases: 

  • Prevent Churn
  • Simplified or Assisted Sign-Ups
  • Improved Conversion from Free Trial or Ad-Supported to Paid
  • Cross-Channel Conversations 
  • Expanded Advanced Technical Support
  • Improve Unsubscribe and “Pause” Experience
  • Reporting Technical Problems and Hacked Accounts
  • Advanced Multi-Lingual Support

Smarter streaming video brands are already exploring machine learning and AI to improve the critical metrics of their business. Even over the near term, these improvements will show up not only in reductions in churn and improvements in conversion but also in higher CSAT and NPS scores.  

Download your copy of Streaming Video Competition Is Brutal. Your Customer Experience Needs To Be Stellar today! 

8 Best Customer Service Stories That Went Viral

Written by Emily Cummins  on   Dec 5, 2020

There’s a lot of bad news in the world. But you’re not going to find that here. Not today. Instead, we’re rounding up our favorite, most heart-warming and inspiring customer service stories that we’ve seen this year. 

Customer experience is everything. It determines customer loyalty and spend. It’s directly tied to retention. While we often talk about the impact that AI can play on the customer experience (CX), in this post we’re focusing on the human element in CX. 

We feel strongly that AI should never replace humans, but rather collaborate with humans. There are some things that AI will never be able to replicate. Characteristics that will always be uniquely human. These great customer service stories focus on these elements — compassion, empathy, subjectivity. The employees in these stories are empowered to act. They take the initiative to do something outside of their job description to make a huge difference in an individual’s life – in the moment of need. That’s what separates a good customer service story from an exceptional one. In the age of the internet, excellent customer service is captured more frequently and can go viral. 

Here are the best customer service stories that put a smile on our face

1. Southwest Airlines saves the dress

A bridesmaid traveled to Costa Rica for her sister’s wedding. Once the busy mother-of-two arrived, she realized that her much-needed bridesmaids dress was still in Texas. Shipping companies could not get the dress to her until after the wedding. She felt hopeless. That is, until a Twitter plea to Southwest Airlines was answered. The airline stepped up and got the dress to the bridesmaid on time for the big day. This over-the-top gesture from Southwest had many employees working to make one single customer (and a bride) very, very happy.

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

2. A Comcast customer service rep saves a man having a stroke 

A Michigan-based Comcast customer was having a conversation about an outage with a Mississippi-based customer service rep when his words started to sound like gibberish. The rep, having witnessed a relative suffering from a stoke years before, recognized that the customer was likely suffering one. She personally tracked down the local EMT and Fire Department and stayed on the line until they arrived. Because of her actions, he is now recovering. 

3. A Chick-fil-A manager helps a WWII veteran change his tire

Chick-fil-a is one of those companies that’s frequently associated with exceptional customer service, so it should come of no surprise that the restaurant chain made our list. Here’s how one manager stepped up. 

When Mr. Lee, a 96-year-old veteran and frequent customer realized he had a flat tire, he came to the counter with tears in his eyes and said he didn’t have anyone to help him. Without delay,  Manager Daryl Howard went into action. The tire was changed within 15 minutes.

4. UPS honors a wife’s wishes 

This customer service story is more funny than heartwarming, but it still deserves to be on the list. 

A woman, who appears to have quite the shopping habit, left a request via a doormat. She kindly asked delivery drivers to hide all packages from her husband, rather humorously. One UPS driver, much to her delight, granted her wish.

5. A barber helps a boy with autism 

Not all of our best customer service stories come from large enterprises. In this story, a local barber helped a young boy who was diagnosed with autism. His parents had cut his hair at home for many years after he became overwhelmed at kid salons. Before his first school picture day, though, his parents thought it might be a good time to try a professional cut again. They scheduled an appointment at Marky Fresh Barbershop. When the young boy arrived, he became emotional inside the shop. The barber noticed he had been much calmer outside, so he suggested that they move the chair outside. It made a world of difference.  

6. A server takes the time to have a conversation

At an Eat’n Park restaurant in Pennsylvania, a 91-year-old veteran sat down by himself for dinner. His server quickly struck up a conversation with the man. The veteran started telling stories before he explained that he was alone now and apologized for talking so much. After paying for his dinner, the waiter listened patiently to every word, reassuring him that he very much enjoyed the conversation.

7. A sanitation worker helps an elderly woman wheel her trash can 

Another heartwarming story was captured on a doorbell camera. A sanitation worker saw an 88-year old woman trip and hit her head while wheeling her trashcan up her driveway. The fall required stitches, and the worker stayed with the woman until the ambulance arrived. The kind hearted gesture did not end there. Now, every week, he wheels her trashcan up the driveway, arm-in-arm with the woman. 

8. A Trader Joe’s employee distracts a crying toddler 

Anyone with young children has been in public when a full-blown meltdown occurs. It’s excruciating. It’s embarrassing. When this happened at one Trader Joe’s, the happy and friendly employees stepped up. They put on a dance that calmed the little customer down immediately.

The customer experience is so important today. Treating customers as individuals and people – not data or audience segments – goes a long way. While we often post about the impact AI can have on customer experience in travel, retail and ecommerce, telecom and other industries, sometimes it’s nice to get back to the basics of good humans. 

What great customer service stories have you loved this year? 

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