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 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 and basic rudimentary chatbots. More digitization of support was underway to give faster service, and again, eliminate hold and decrease resolution times.
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 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.
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.