Artificial Intelligence Is Redefining Customer Service

Even a few years ago, it would have seemed far-fetched to verbally ask a device to perform a task or provide information. But personal assistants such as Alexa and Siri have become so ingrained in our culture that they’re changing our views of customer service.

According to the 2017 Aspect Consumer Experience Index, an increasing number of consumers would rather interact with artificial intelligence (AI) technologies than human customer service agents. In fact, one-third of all consumers and more than half (52 percent) of Millennials said they would like to see all customer service done through self-service AI. More than one-third are open to having customer service done through intelligent assistants such as Amazon Echo or even ordinary appliances such as refrigerators through the Internet of Things (IoT).

Consumers noted that their experience with these newer customer service channels has improved in the past year. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of consumers gave a favorable rating to text-based customer service using AI, a 10 percent increase from the year before. At the same time, the number of people who contacted customer service declined 7 percent over the past two years, and the number of people who contacted customer service via the telephone dropped 10 percent.

Many companies focus on “personalizing” the customer service experience by having agents state the customer’s name. However, 48 percent of consumers feel that the ability to interact with a business in the method of their choice is the most important facet of a personalized experience — three times more important than an agent knowing their name.

In addition, consumers are more concerned about the quality of customer service than the communications channel. Almost half (45 percent) of consumers surveyed said they didn’t care if an online purchase or customer service interaction is performed by a chatbot or a live agent as long it is handled quickly and accurately.

The number of customers who stopped doing business with companies because of poor customer service continues to increase. That figure rose to 54 percent last year, up from 49 percent the year before. The number of Millennials who defected due to poor customer service jumped 8 percent. Basic lack of effectiveness — the ability of customer service to resolve issues to their satisfaction — was the No. 1 reason why customers jumped ship.

High-quality customer service is so important that consumers are more than willing to pay more for it. More than half (52 percent) of American consumers said they would pay more for guaranteed good customer service and three-quarters would pay more for exceptional customer service.

Customer service is in decline — at least through traditional channels — and organizations should view this as an opportunity to differentiate themselves through the use of AI-based technologies. Consumers are far more interested in rapid and accurate resolution of their problems than in speaking with a human agent. Companies can potentially save money and enhance the customer experience by asking Alexa to handle many customer service requests.