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The Current State Of AI In Customer Service And CX (Customer Experience): An Expert Roundup

As interest in AI (artificial intelligence) in CX (customer experience) and customer service grows, I took the moment to check in with two fellow experts in the field the field of customer experience and AI:

Raj Singh, the founder and CEO of Go Moment, a Google-backed company dedicated to making customer service instant. Go Moment is the home of the smart concierge Ivy that is well known in the hospitality industry. Singh is also a product design expert and public speaker, and blogs at RajSinghLA.com.  

Pradeep (Paddy) Rathinam, the Chief Customer Officer at Freshworks, where he leads the customer support, customer success, and customer implementation acquisition of Rathinam’s prior company, AnswerIQ. 

Rathinam is also well known and loved in the Seattle tech community and as a mentor to local startups.

I caught up with the two of them, in the course of curating and hosting the Rethink CX webinar series sponsored by Freshworks. (I’m Micah Solomon, a customer experience [CX] consultant, professional keynote speaker/virtual keynote speaker-webinar host, and bestselling author, most recently of Ignore Your Customers and They’ll Go Away. Like Paddy, I live in the Seattle, Washington area.)

Micah Solomon, Senior Contributor, Forbes; customer service and CX expert consultant: Let’s start by talking about the effect of the COVID-required lockdown on perceptions. This is a question on all our minds: Has the way the world views AI and automation has changed in the last few months? What I’ve seen so far is a mix of positive and negative. On the one hand, the economic aspect of the COVID crisis has brought mass unemployment in its wake. So existing public fears about AI causing job disruption have been amplified. Conversely, though, the medical aspect of the COVID crisis has made the public view AI more positively. The COVID-19 crisis has us thinking about the downsides of working with people: either they’re not physically available (because they’re at home) or it’s literally dangerous to be in contact with them.

Raj Singh, Founder and CEO of Go Moment: That last point is an important one. Automation and bots are biosafe. They’re part of the “pure tech” movement that’s burgeoning right now, and understandably so.

Pradeep (Paddy) Rathinam, Chief Customer Officer at Freshworks: The economic side of the current crisis is increasing interest in AI as well. With revenues and profits down, and yet customer service volumes in some cases actually increasing, when executive teams look at AI and automation, they’ll start by asking, “How can I manage with the current workforce, without having to hire–since I can’t afford to do so?” So the move to AI becomes even more relevant in today’s economic landscape, because you want to be able to manage those spikes in volume but do it with the same number of agents. 

Solomon: Apart from the current crisis, let’s talk about the current level of familiarity among the general public with AI and automation.

Singh: They’re absolutely all around us. Perhaps most visibly–or should I say audibly?–so many of us have Alexas and Google Assistant devices at our homes, and are using Siri and other smart assistants on our phone. Growing nearly as quickly is consumer familiarity with home automation. There was a recent (but pre-COVID-19) study that estimated that by 2022, in American homes there will be some 900 million smart devices for in-home automation.

Solomon: To what extent is this familiarity changing what consumers expect from the customer experience?

Rathinam: It’s making a major change. The customer expectation has become one of instant gratification: “Alexa, tell me this,” “Google, tell me this, give me that.” Another aspect of this is that customers are now expecting answers not articles. Rather than being fed links, they want precise answers to the question that’s been posed.

So the kind of service that requires assistance from AI or automation is  becoming a customer service expectation for customers across all channels, whether phone, chat, an email ticket, or social. More and more, the willingness to wait even 30 seconds, let alone for two minutes, for an agent to handle a cancellation or a refund is going away The expectation is becoming that the whole process can be handled with AI and process automation.

Solomon:  So with customers expecting an AI-informed experience, where should a business start if they want to explore bringing AI into their customer service mix?

Singh: The first thing I would recommend is to define the outcomes that you’re looking for. Even before beginning the process of selecting a vendor, you should be clear on the end result that you want to achieve for your organization.

For example, if you’ve got 10 million customer inquiries coming in every year, you could make the goal to be to deflect 10% of them via automation next year. Once you have a defined vision of success like that one, you can work with an expert individual or organization that understands your business and has a track record of helping others to succeed, because there is definitely a lot of noise out there in the AI space.

Rathinam: When we talk to customer service leaders, their objectives generally tend to be, ” help me improve my CSAT,” or, “I want to increase my Net Promoter Score.” But the reality is that the metrics they’re talking about are resultant metrics. If you think through how to improve your CSAT or NPS, you’ll realize that doing this comes from achieving a goal that matters to the customer, like great first contact resolution. Do something tangible like that with the help of AI, and you will end up with an improved CSAT.

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