digital transAlthough the AI development is still in its infancy, it’s clear by now that customer satisfaction can be achieved faster than ever with its help. However, like with any new technology, the typical principles apply: First, AI remained a marginal phenomenon and only experts dealt with it, but after it got some media attention it became the talk of the town. Then, with the first success stories, a hype develops that unfortunately attracts charlatans as well. High user expectations often result in disappointing practice experience, though.

But maybe it is a different story with Artificial Intelligence (AI) as its success story has developed somewhat differently than expected, too. When in 1958 the US computer scientist John McCarthy started to bring the entire knowledge of humanity in a singular form of presentation, everything looked quite promising. Based on simple data models, machines automatically draw conclusions from collected data (or experiences) without having clear instructions (scripts) and the e term "Artificial Intelligence" was coined. It took them however another 53 years until AI got global media attention.

When Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated a chatbot application at the F8 developer conference around two years ago and Amazon launched its language assistant, it kick-started the hype. Everyone started to talk about AI and made people realize the potential of the technology: AI provides customers with intelligent services and becomes a core technology for customer loyalty and convenience. Now the question is, how long will it take us to reach the bottom of commercial applications and seriously deploy AI for our industry?

AI brings together key elements of positive customer experience

Call centers, websites, emails and apps have always allowed service-oriented businesses to simplify the CX, while increasing process efficiency and reducing costs. However, many customers today complain about beefed-up procedures and twisted systems that hinder or undermine satisfaction. In many cases, different stakeholders (marketing, customer service) have been competing for control over the customer journey, with the consequence that many touchpoints in the service experience are still unconnected today. The transparent journey through all experiences does not exist, because investments of the past are often piecemeal.

Since service costs will have to come down and skilled workers are scarce, AI comes at the right time to bridge the gap. AI can help in customer service, customer care and customer management, virtually anywhere, as it recognizes the intentions of customers, derives the right business process from it, extracts the relevant business and personal data from unstructured textual information, and displays all the information on the professionals’ screen when needed.

AI can deliver a customer's sentiment in real time by reading what's in emails and comments and recognize customers' problems. What's more, when messages suddenly pile up on a new topic, AI raises the alarm. Artificial Intelligence is able to pinpoint a good 80% of recurring routine operations from 20% individual cases. In view of the looming shortage of skilled workers in some industries this is a virtually no-alternative feature on the way to the digitization of processes, don’t you think?

Nobody understands people better than humans

However, despite all the euphoria, we must stay realistic. Nobody understands people and their needs better than a human, because in marketing it also needs “sure instinct" to put yourself in the shoes of the customer to fulfill expectations. But it is only a matter of time before machine learning platforms will better map that talent, with the huge amount of available data continuing to grow. Only with the help of machines, we will we be able to draw the right conclusions from people.

Creating customer enthusiasm has generally become more and more difficult, as we live in a networked world where all products and services need to be available by the touch of a screen. Hence, AI needs to serve customers and staff quickly and accurately, otherwise the use of AI will remain superficial.

More important than the technological perspective is the strategic value, the ‘wow’ factor for your customers, and the managing of change.

Clearly, the AI development is progressing fast and we can expect more AI technology novelties in the CX environment to come. This inner proof of concept will increase our acceptance and dealing with thinking machines will become a commodity. In fact, we even expect machines to become more human. So far, they have not been able to fulfill this aspect. On the contrary, as they became more human, they got more eerie, but that is changing. Especially when it comes to customer service, people are open to new experiences - like the assistance systems in our cars or soon driverless vehicles.

I see an exciting development with tremendous potential for customer service!

By Daniela La Marca