More than ever before, customers hold the reins in their interactions with businesses. However, according to recent Forrester research, only about a third of global businesses feel they can react to customer wants and needs in real time.
Seventy-nine per cent of decision-makers believe consumers are more impatient than ever before. An equal number say consumers will dismiss them if they don’t receive value in their first interaction. Their customers also prefer to ask questions and speak to an expert before making a purchase.
Today, businesses have more opportunities for touchpoints with customers, as well as more interactions to manage. On the other hand, customers expect easy and effective experiences that leave them feeling good about having done business with a brand. As such, the challenge for businesses has become delivering personalised, effective and easy interactions that meet consumers’ expectations, at scale.
Competing on customer experience
The old way of doing business with customers – forcing them to visit an office, branch or store, pick up the phone, or self-serve on a website or app – no longer cuts it. Rather, the research highlights a shift we’ve been seeing among innovative brands for several years: the move to conversational channels, such as messaging and voice assistants.
By 2020, customer experience will overtake product and price as the key brand differentiator. Back in 2011, research firm Gartner predicted that by the turn of the next decade, customers will manage 85% of their relationships with businesses without interacting with a human.
As businesses have made engagement easier while adding more value and personalisation to interactions, the number of engagements has risen. This has led companies to combine artificial intelligence and automation with human agents to deliver effective and quick engagements that meet customer expectations.
A fantastic Australian example is Open Universities Australia, a leader in online higher education. As well as traditional channels like voice and email, students can contact OUA over SMS and Facebook Messenger to get the services they need. OUA has effectively blended AI and human resources, for instance, when its customer service team is not in overnight or they’re experiencing a surge in demand, a concierge bot named ‘study bot’ steps in to triage enquiries.
Use AI and automation to enhance customer experience
It’s impossible for businesses to keep pace with customers’ demands for relevant, personalised information, in a variety of channels, without some level of automation or AI. That’s not to say automation and AI will replace humans. In fact, great customer engagement relies on AI and automation working in conjunction with human talent to complement each other’s unique strengths.
With conversational channels and experiences, repetitive tasks can be offloaded to automation and AI. This frees up human talent to focus on value-added interactions – backed with the right content, data and insights.
Going back to OUA – some conversations are transactional, for example, “I need to change my password”, and this is when a StudyBot steps in. At the same time, OUA’s customer service team deals with complex interactions that require detailed subject matter expertise, that is, advising prospective students on the right study and career path for them – where the human touch rules.
Unarguably, customers now hold the power in business relationships. And they want experiences and interactions that are friction-free, highly personal, and on their time, in their preferred channels. The only way businesses can deliver on these wants and needs, at scale, is by effectively blending AI and automation with human talent.