Customer service is often a massive headache for businesses regardless of their size. Smaller enterprises often suffer from budgetary constraints when it comes to maintaining a customer service team, while in the case of larger corporations, there is often a lack of quality in the service provided due to the high volume of customers.
Unfortunately, these troubles have only increased in the digital era, and the modern consumer is more demanding than ever, requiring instant solutions to their problems. To make matters even worse, the costs of failure have also increased, as competitors can quickly snatch away sales with superior customer engagement tactics.
Yet, these same business technologies that have come to characterise Industry 4.0 may also have the answer to this problem.
Artificial Intelligence in Customer Support
The potential uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in business have been the subject of research for decades, even if the progress in bringing science fiction to reality has been somewhat slow. Its application within customer support has been rapid, however, and while it is not yet perfect, it is one example of an area where this technology can improve your operations.
Indeed, in recent years, there have been several breakthroughs in this niche, the most visible of which has been the implementation of 'chatbots'. These pieces of software utilise algorithms to imitate human conversation and, while still falling short of passing the Turing test, are often able to triage customer queries sufficiently. When we talk about AI customer support in 2020 and beyond, the primary focus is on this particular implementation of AI technology.
Therefore, AI customer support can be defined as any online or digital customer relationship management (CRM) system that is automated by a non-human. In this context, staff are replaced by software programmes that deal directly with your business clients and customers, including the answering of basic queries, troubleshooting, marketing information and more.
A Brief Introduction to Chatbots
A chatbot is a piece of software programmed to carry out a conversation with a human being, either through text chats or voice. Modern chatbots are powered by algorithms and are programmed to deliver automated responses to specific questions.
Thanks to advances in AI technology, such as machine learning and natural language processing, today's chatbots have evolved beyond giving robotic-sounding replies to almost holding natural conversations with people online.
They are not a particularly new concept, either, although fine-tuning their performance has taken decades. The first chatbot, ELIZA, was created at MIT in 1966, while a primitive implementation of chatbots in business was the automated phone-tree response system used by 1-800 numbers. Digital chatbots are now, of course, far more sophisticated than this, but the core purpose is still the same.
These days, chatbots are very common on commercial websites. They often pop up in corner spots, asking if you have any questions or need assistance.
The Benefits of AI Customer Support
So how exactly can this software improve your customer service processes? Here are some of the key benefits:
Staffing does not come cheap, and this is especially true in the customer service sector where, in many industries, constant, round-the-clock attention is required. For a long time, businesses mitigated this by outsourcing their customer service departments to markets with lower labour costs, but, even then, costs were still high, and the practice proved unpopular with many customers.
Chatbots are a much more economically sustainable alternative to this, and do not come with the disapproval of customers that outsourced call centres and agents often bring. Indeed, a single virtual agent is capable of doing the jobs of several individuals, and though chatbots cannot wholly replace humans at present – especially within the higher levels of your customer support team – they can still significantly reduce your wage bill nonetheless.
Easy to Install
Implementing AI-powered customer care software in your business is relatively easy these days, as many B2B providers now offer targeted products aimed at various enterprise segments.
Many of these companies offer management services, too, as well as provide any relevant training to customer support managers.
Can Improve Team Morale
Customer support can be a mentally taxing job, with customer service departments often experiencing significantly high turnover rates. As a result, morale and productivity are major concerns.
However, having AI software in place to handle low-level, repetitive tasks can be a boon. It also leaves your customer support team free to handle more challenging (and ultimately rewarding) tasks and puts them in a better position to have received vital information about the customer's issues before engaging with them live.
Can Improve Customer Satisfaction
In its earlier manifestations, AI technology was not advanced enough for commercial use. Early examples of chatbots were a mess and often derided for erratic, inane, and downright comical mistakes.
Fortunately, those days are now long gone. Modern AI software iterations have become far more sophisticated, and ongoing developments mean that these virtual agents are becoming realistic enough to fool a casual observer into thinking that they are dealing with an actual human.
Even when this is not the case, AI is still capable of delivering a consistent user experience at all times. The inability to feel emotions or approach customers with fatigue is a big plus here, while their ability to function 24/7 means that customers can get something out of their experience regardless of what time of the day it is.
This point is especially important, as, with human agents, there are often massive delays during peak hours. This is one of the single most frustrating things that can tank a positive user experience, making customers feel helpless and irate, and causing resentment. The use of AI can virtually erase this defect, making your customers feel empowered and improving their overall user experience.
Common Implementations of AI Customer Support and Chatbots
Chatbots (and other AI-powered customer support services) can be leveraged in several ways. One of the most common uses is external – handling incoming requests and queries from customers.
Taking the traditional place of human operators, these customer support programmes direct customers to the appropriate resource or service that they are seeking. For instance, if your client has a query regarding a new product, the chatbot can either provide that information in the chat window or send the appropriate links.
If, on the other hand, the customer has an advanced problem that requires troubleshooting, the chatbot can be programmed to connect the customer to an expert human customer care operative.
Besides this external brief, AI can also be harnessed for internal purposes, especially if you have a large or complex organisation. Personal digital assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant are all a subspecies of advanced AI chatbots and can be utilised in a variety of operational areas, such as scheduling, automated ordering, and other smart tasks that can increase productivity inside your office.
Artificial intelligence is no longer the realm of science fiction – and it's no longer the sole privilege of huge corporations, either. The evolution of technology has drastically improved the situation, making commercial AI solutions more affordable and more available to small businesses than ever before.
Any enterprise can add a virtual agent to their online or app-based platforms these days and, given the huge boost it can provide to your customer satisfaction levels, a strong case can be made for buying into AI customer support services sooner rather than later.
Do you agree? Is automation the way forward, or is the human element of customer support being overlooked? Let us know your thoughts and opinions on the subject in the comment section below!