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The AI Effect: Customer Support

Ryan Frederick | March 29th, 2024 | Dublin,Ohio

There have already been some stories about companies leveraging AI in customer support. Klarna (https://bit.ly/3TPESyB), for example, released early results from its implementation.

I was giving a talk recently about AI, and I asked the attendees if they cared whether they were interacting with an AI or a human, if they got their questions answered, or if issues were resolved quickly and efficiently. No one cared. Hence, adopting AI in customer service will be fast and furious.

Depending on your naming preference, customer service or support is a sweet spot for AI to add significant value to companies and customers. Companies get cost reductions, improved efficiency, and happier customers. Customers get better, faster, and more accurate service in most cases — a win-win.

A reality of AI doing more customer support is that customer support jobs will be displaced. It is unavoidable since both companies and customers will value it more than interacting with humans in most cases. Will AI in customer support replace every human in customer support? No, as some will be needed to oversee and manage the AI while also dealing with edge cases, the AI can’t handle. However, the number of edge cases will decrease over time. This will significantly impact the current business process outsourcing (BPO) companies and most contact centers of any size and flavor. The BPOs and contact centers in or outsourced working in regulated environments will persist, given the sensitive nature of account information, health records, etc. Still, AI customer support will infiltrate these as far as they can.

Customer support is a relatively easy area for a company to implement AI in because the data and systems in customer support are robust enough to facilitate humans doing the work currently. The infrastructure is in place to inject AI into the mix at the interaction layer without changing much of the underlying data and infrastructure.

Companies will segment customers and how they support different customers based on their importance and value to the company. This has been the objective all along, but AI helps to make it possible by automating low-level and low-value interactions with average customers, allowing companies to provide more concierge, high-touch services, and support to more valued customers. Banks have segmented customers this way for a long time. Private banking customers get access to people, services, and support that typical banking customers need access to. This will now happen across most industries with ease and clarity impossible without AI.

So, what has changed with AI from the previously used chatbots and other systems for companies to support customers without human involvement from the company side? In a word, intelligence. The previous chatbots and other systems were relatively unintelligent. Although these systems were desired to answer customer questions and solve customer problems, they served as funnels and precursors for humans to interact with humans. These systems never delivered on the promise of self-service customer support because the systems weren’t capable of providing quality responses and interactions. If anything, these systems caused a degradation in the quality and speed of customer support. AI customer support agents and tools have access to and can leverage the data intelligently to solve customer problems and answer questions. It is the advancement customer support has been wanting and needing to evolve beyond systems that ultimately ended up just buying companies time as part of customer support instead of effectively and efficiently responding to customer inquiries. Over time, every chatbot, IVR (interactive voice response), and other customer support system will be replaced or AI-enabled to become intelligent.

The power of AI for customer support is that it will make even the lowest-value and infrequent customers feel special because they will get a level of service and experience that will make it seem like they are getting elevated treatment. Customers can email, text, or call requesting service, place an order, or schedule an appointment, and an AI agent will process the request with little to no friction. We’re already seeing this and working on these things with clients at Transform Labs. Processing inbound customer requests to place or update orders and to schedule service. This occurs across manufacturing, hospitality, equipment rental, fractional jet service, and more. Every sector and company will be leveraging AI very quickly in similar ways.

Nonprofits, often technology laggards, can benefit even more than some for-profit companies by driving easier and better engagement with financial donors and those they serve. As the cost of implementing AI decreases and the ease of managing AI agents becomes point-and-click configuration and management, nonprofits can provide a higher level of engagement and service with significantly less overhead.

AI will accelerate overcoming inefficient and mind-numbing experiences such as, “Our menu options have changed” or “Your call is important to us.”