Who can blame consumers for expecting smart, seamless, and instantaneous customer support? They’re accustomed to asking a question out loud and hearing an immediate response from a smart device — or tapping a handful of keywords into a browser and getting a buffet of answers in seconds.
This is AI in all its consumer-friendly glory.
And it raises the bar for businesses. Expectations of customer experience (CX) are rapidly reaching an all-time high. Zendesk research suggests that fast responses and resolutions to their issues are customers’ top priority and a key driver of their loyalty to a company. Consumers are no longer willing to sit on hold or wait until an agent becomes available online. They want their inquiry answered or issue resolved on their preferred channel. Now, please.
AI is the right technology to help service and support organizations deliver personalized customer service and drive faster, more satisfactory resolutions. There continues to be massive potential for how it can be used to better serve customers across all service interactions — and support organizations are paying attention. Each year our Zendesk CX Trends research shows more businesses and customers expect to use and interact with AI. In fact, industry analysts predict that in the near term, AI will touch the majority of customer service interactions.
As the busy holiday season approaches, it’s a good time for businesses to consider how AI can make an immediate impact, particularly for retailers. Here are three ways it can be leveraged.
1. AI as your first line of response
Zendesk analysis shows that 80 percent of customer inquiries can be narrowed down to only 20 issues. For example, the retail industry typically sees the same types of questions related to returns, shipping, order status, and similar transactional concerns. With AI, support software can be trained on these types of interactions and handle the highest volume of queries, quickly, efficiently, and automatically.
AI can also be used to find the right balance between bots and humans, creating more personalized and informed interactions that better serve customers. For example, specific inquiries, such as “I’m having problems with payment”, can be prioritised and automatically escalated to an agent who is equipped to handle billing for a quicker resolution. Machine learning can even detect negative sentiments in inquiries that include things like language written in all capital letters or with a sarcastic tone and route them to the top of the queue.
This allows customers who prefer to self-serve on a specific channel to get the resolutions they want and frees agents to handle more complex issues and provide personalised service — as well as revenue-driving support and service.
2. AI as your agents’ best assistant
Our research found that 72 percent of agents report being frustrated by having to look for customer data. Fortunately, customers aren’t the only people that AI serves. AI can also help agents by gathering relevant customer information up front and escalating a ticket to the right agent. Pre-trained machine learning can automatically guide agents on how to best resolve a customer’s issue in real time, understand context and intent, and recommend solutions.
This enables agents to be proactive as they help customers faster and more effectively. And as AI solutions rely on keeping the agent in the loop and having the agent make the final decision in regards to how to best handle customer’s requests, the AI’s accuracy is continuously boosted with the constant agent feedback from these recommendations.
These AI features can be a game changer over the holiday season, when both ticket volume and tensions are high. By allowing AI to take care of the massive task of data gathering, and then presenting context and resolution options, agents can focus on providing the kind of personalized support that only a human (with a little help) can accomplish. New agents will also be ramped up faster by already having an expert assistant when they join a new company.
3. AI for long-term insights
While AI support solutions can provide quick and real-time relief during busy times, it’s also important to consider how it can transform the organization over time. AI can help streamline operations by automating triage, routing conversations by intent, and increasing visibility on where to prioritize. With insights like these, companies can improve operations as they consistently deliver exceptional customer experiences.
As AI continues to evolve, support organizations can expect even more features that will improve CX, both in frontline customer interactions and in business operations. AI will soon extend to encompass all service needs, beginning with a notification from a bot that identifies a customer and detects the customer’s intent, leading to the best course of action. But AI’s largest impact may come from the insights it can provide to help you take preventative actions. Trend identification will allow you to predict issues that are arising and identify common customer needs and areas of tension — in short, it will know when a customer experience isn’t ideal and when a customer may not return. The results may be nothing short of transformative when it comes to the data and analysis you can leverage.
For today, some customer-facing AI features already live inside existing support technology. Many businesses don’t need to purchase and implement additional AI tools to take advantage of machine learning capabilities. As an example, Zendesk’s AI capabilities are built for businesses of all sizes, modeled on billions of data points, and can be set up quickly and easily. We recently launched new AI solutions like Intelligent Triage and Smart Assist to empower businesses of all sizes to triage customer support requests automatically and access valuable data at scale.
The ultimate goal of AI in support functions is to take the burden and complexity off customers and allow companies to build powerful applications on a strong foundation. We’re well on our way to democratizing this experience for businesses across all industries.