AI chatbot for customer service
Robot handConversational AI for customer service

What’s with the hype?

The hype swirling around artificial intelligence in customer service is very real, and yet, if we’re being perfectly honest, it’s also a major part of the problem.

Ask any executive of a large enterprise (because who doesn’t have the CEO of Bank of America on speed dial, right?) that has recently issued an RFP for a conversational AI solution about their biggest gripe in the process and they’ll all likely tell you the same thing - just how crowded the market truly is.

Trying to discern between the countless vendors out there - all claiming to have the BEST technology - is not only a hassle but could end up leading to a hugely expensive waste of time. It’s not for nothing that Gartner placed chatbots smack dab at the top of the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ on their AI hypebeast chart. No matter how ridiculously titled it may be, they have a point.

With so many vendors out there muddying the waters, it can be easy to lose sight of the tangible benefits that a good conversational AI-powered virtual agent can actually bring to your business.

Gartner, ever bullish in their outlook, conducted a survey of key IT leaders across various industries that found that organizations are increasingly investing in the development and deployment of conversational AI. Of the CIO’s surveyed, they overwhelmingly identified virtual agents as the main AI-based application used in their enterprises.

Couple that with the fact that the conversational AI market is expected to exceed $15.7 billion annually by 2024, and one thing is abundantly clear: there’s no sign of this train slowing down anytime soon.

AI chatbot for customer service

All the more reason, then, to familiarize yourself with the core benefits of AI for customer service. That way, when your business is ready to take the plunge (and all signs point towards you being late to the party if you’re not already implementing something) you are armed with the knowledge to make the right decision about which conversational AI vendor will deliver the biggest bang per buck.

1. It never has a day off

Consumers don’t care about your call queues. And why should they? They have instant access to a planet’s worth of information and media from the supercomputer they carry around in their pocket and no doubt find it jarring when they’re expected to wait on hold for 35 minutes to block a lost credit card. And what if they need to get ahold of you on a weekend? Hah, forget about it.

A virtual agent powered by conversational AI all but obliterates this classic customer service pain point that has been the scourge of call centers and support desks since the very beginning. A virtual agent is always available - that means after hours, weekends, holidays, during a crisis, you name it - and, in doing so, can help to spread out the volume of support traffic.

Customers can deal with simple, self-service queries when it’s cvonvenient to them, and your human support staff will be less hammered during working hours. It doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to see that the knock-on effect of AI for customer service brings benefits to either side of an interaction - both customers and employees.

2. It helps keep costs down

Customers come first - the mantra of every business looking to succeed since forever. While this is, of course, super important, it’s never the only focus. Maximizing revenue and reducing expenditure also play an important part and it’s no surprise that conversational AI can help here, too.

A virtual agent is a fantastic tool in helping a business keep costs down. Unlike human employees, a virtual customer service rep is never overworked, meaning it can be scaled to handle whatever volume of traffic you need to contend with on any given day. Experiencing an unexpected spike in traffic due to external reasons beyond your control? A virtual agent can proactively relay information to customers without the need to onboard temporary staff at a huge expense.

Norwegian bank Sparebank 1 SR-Bank’s virtual agent, Banki, does the equivalent work of 31 FTE - increasing the bank’s capacity to help customers by 175% without the need to hire a single additional member of staff. It’s like having a superpowered employee whose sole purpose it is to make customers happy and the workday of existing staff easier, and it doesn’t even take bio breaks.

3. It offers unwavering consistence

No matter how experienced your customer service staff are, they can still make mistakes. Whether it’s a simple slip like giving out incorrect office opening hours, or something far more serious like misquoting crucial insurance policy wording, sometimes there’s just no way to avoid it. Humans will slip up from time to time and it could end up costing your business dearly. The best a company could do in the past was to recognize that these possibilities exist and plan ahead by training staff to avoid them as best as possible.

Conversational AI has changed the game in this regard because one of the benefits of AI for customer service is that it can’t ever be wrong. A virtual agent is unwavering and not hampered by how good or bad of a day it is having. Consistency is king in customer service and there is nothing more consistent than an artificial intelligence that always has the correct answers to customer questions.

To achieve this unparalleled consistency, it requires not just the very best natural language technology but also the expertise of human customer service staff. Existing employees can translate their extensive knowledge of your company’s products and services into a new role called the ‘AI Trainer’ that is responsible for training and maintaining the virtual agent. Imagine the potential of a virtual agent that never sleeps, combined with the wealth of experience of your most competent customer support staff.

Now, imagine a machine that prints money. It’d be safe to wager that the two are probably not entirely dissimilar in your mind.

4. It knows what customers want even before they do

Customer-to-company interaction rarely happens in a vacuum, so it’s critical to use all the available tools at your disposal to maximize the experience. Cross-selling and up-selling can be major revenue generators for a business, but also run the risk of irritating customers when they are pitched products and services that they just don’t need.

There is still a case, however, to be made for promoting your wares to existing customers. According to HubSpot Research, 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases with companies that offer excellent customer service. Conversational AI has the power to supercharge this often delicate interaction paradigm by referencing previous interactions (as well as a customer’s existing account) and making informed suggestions that actually benefit rather than annoy.

5. It works alongside your human reps to boost customer loyalty

The power of great customer service cannot be overstated. In a survey by the Temkin Group, 77% of customers said they would recommend a brand to a friend after having just a single positive experience. This kind of fervent brand loyalty is the holy grail that companies continually strive for and conversational AI provides a perfect channel to bolster it.

Thanks to natural language technologies and deep learning, a virtual agent has the capacity to interact on a conversational level that is almost indistinguishable from a human. By also automating all the relatively mundane and repetitive tasks that you would normally have to wait on hold (or navigate around a confusing website) to get done, you’re also getting into customer’s good graces by not wasting their precious time.

We really see the benefits of AI for customer service shine when a virtual agent works hand-in-hand with human reps. Customers with requests outside of a virtual agent’s defined scope can be easily handed over to support staff, all within the same chat window and with a log of the interaction for reference. After all, the secret to building customer loyalty is about actually getting customers the help they need, whether that help comes from a human, a machine or some combination of the two.

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