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Can AI help businesses to run service centers at lower cost?

Andrew Lawson Profile picture for user Andrew Lawson October 25, 2023
Summary:
Not all AI solutions are created equal when it comes to meeting customer service needs. Zendesk's Andrew Lawson reflects on examples of personalized AI that can help businesses grow.

Headphones with microphone with speech bubble chat icon yellow service center technology concept © Lerbank-bbk22 - Canva.com
( © Lerbank-bbk22 - Canva.com)

Businesses are under pressure to perform at a high level right now, but with fewer resources. The high cost of living, raw materials, and energy, are all impacting companies striving to remain profitable. In parallel, Artificial Intelligence (AI) innovation continues to grow incredibly quickly, becoming top of mind for every CEO and corporate executives, who are still learning the technology's business value and risks. 

The question on everybody’s lips is: is AI ready for mainstream adoption and can it help save costs? The short answer is: yes, on both counts. That said, many companies still do not have a clearly defined AI strategy in place. In fact, Zendesk’s data shows that 62% of business leaders feel their organization is lagging in using AI/bots and that their approach to AI has been ad hoc rather than strategic. 

The first step for any AI investment to be successful requires businesses to first and foremost familiarize themselves with the core principles, standards, applications, and regulations of this technology,  identifying the biggest barriers to adoption and ways to break those down . 

With a solid AI strategy in place that is connected to your business objectives, companies can indeed harness the power of AI to save money, besides many other benefits too. For example, improving customer satisfaction by helping firms give a better quality of service. AI can also make service agents more efficient by automating repetitive tasks and enabling them to focus on the priority queries first — ones that only a human can handle.

With all that said, not every AI solution is suited to CX applications and in a bid to quickly roll out a ready-made off-the-shelf AI tool, there is a risk that companies could be caught short. The Holy Grail is CX-specific AI tools with a fast turnaround, but without a huge outlay for the business. Not every tool can tick all these boxes.   

The best AI is personal

Even in its relative infancy, we’ve seen examples of both good and bad AI implementation. I know I have in my own personal interactions with customer support teams — and so have other consumers. Bots, in particular, are called out by customers because it’s a type of AI they commonly see. Bad bots give poor responses and incorrect information that isn’t relevant to the customer’s query. I’ve been left frustrated when badly designed AI tools don’t work well. Customers who have also been in this situation are less likely to buy from the same business again.

On the other hand, good bots care about the customer. That’s because they connect well to other business systems and can provide a bespoke, automated response. On top of that, today AI driven solutions can effectively assist in complicated inquiries due to the ability of this technology to understand much more about the customer’s needs- for instance, understanding a customer’s exact intent, as well as analyzing company information to find the right answer, and most importantly, engaging with a customer personally and conversationally. But AI can also go one step further by offering proactive messaging that pre-empts customer queries and provides support just at the right time.

This is the type of implementation that businesses should be striving for. And indeed, in the Zendesk CX Trends Report 2023, three quarters of consumers (77%) say AI/bots are helpful for dealing with simple issues, while seven in 10 (71%) say AI/bots help them get faster replies.

The perception of AI is improving all the time as the technology gets better. But at the end of the day, it’s only as good as the data that’s fed into it. It’s therefore important that this data is coordinated across the business and that silos are eradicated. That means whoever is dealing with the query at any given time can see the full history and context of the customer.

Grow in all the right areas

Every business wants to grow, but more workforce isn’t always the answer, especially when it comes to agent headcount. It can of course be a sign that a company wants to put CX front and center, but there are efficient ways to offer A-class service, without constantly hiring more people. Depending on the growth rate of the business, you’ll find that support team expansion doesn’t always scale anyway.

AI can fill the gaps when a company grows quickly, but again, the type of AI solution you use will make all the difference. For example, intelligent, omnichannel routing and relevant macros can solve issues faster, while continuing to train the AI to improve over time. This enables collaboration, while reducing context-switching, which could lead to lost productivity.

Online learning platform Udacity used Zendesk partner Ada, to create a bespoke AI-powered bot, increasing customer satisfaction rates without adding to headcount, despite doubled traffic. The company saw a 75%  drop in first response time and a 60% increase in tickets resolved within 24 hours. In total, Udacity’s efficiency gains saved the business $240K in annual headcount.

The right fit for the future

The bottom line is that AI isn’t the latest whizzy plaything to add to a seemingly endless pile of business apps. It’s the future of customer service. A solid 72% of business leaders say that expanding AI across the customer experience will be a main priority over the coming year, according to Zendesk’s research. To get there, 67% expect to boost spending on the technology in the following 12 months. 

Although it will require upfront investment and a clear strategy, businesses hope it will help them cut costs overall, which is important in the current climate. But it’s also helping customers get what they want faster by letting the technology do the heavy lifting.

Maximizing the benefits of AI in CX applications requires a tool that is purpose built for service applications. But ‘purpose built’ shouldn’t mean complex implementation processes that take months to get right. With the right solution, vendor, and approach, it can take minutes to get up and running.

This is an exciting time for AI. Not only does it make sense from a business perspective, but we’re also seeing both companies and consumers looking to the future of the technology with hope. I’m one of those people. Our goal should be to offer the best service possible and give service agents the tools to do their best work. AI for CX will multiply their efforts and enable them to do things that they didn’t have the time or capability to do before.

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