Once upon a time, customer service was simply seen as a lifeline for issues. It was little more than an option to get help with a product or return something to the store. In the modern era, though, the definition has become much more complex. Now, customer service is often considered a part of an organization’s marketing efforts. It represents a commitment to quality and a desire to create truly satisfied users. Sure, all of those efforts are ultimately aimed at increasing the bottom line, but it doesn’t change the fact that customer service has increased in importance and value over the years.
Naturally, then, the arrival and integration of artificial intelligence (AI) has made waves in this area where the “human touch” has always been key. The question is, how are AI, robotics, machine learning, and the like impacting the highly personalized field of customer service? And how will they transform customer service in the future?
AI is actively impacting practically every aspect of business in one way or another at this point. It gives farm equipment the ability to care for crops with pinpoint precision, detects eye diseases with the accuracy of a doctor, and has facilitated the greatest transformations in the field of accounting in half a millennium. Everywhere one looks, there’s no doubt that AI is busy disrupting the world as we know it.
This change is coming through the continual development of AI in numerous different fields of study. Machine learning, for instance, is enabling technology to operate increasingly independently, analyzing massive sets of data and making predictions and decisions from the results. In addition, other critical areas like the field of robotic process automation are continuing to make leaps and bounds, equipping AI with the ability not just to think like humans but to operate like them as well. RPA is just one way AI will transform customer service.
It’s no surprise that advances like these are jumping forward at breakneck speeds, as the promise of AI is leading companies to pour money into the fledgling industry at impressive levels. For instance, it’s estimated that global spending on AI and machine learning will reach a staggering 57.6 billion per year as soon as 2021. While that figure may seem exorbitant, it makes complete sense when one considers the operating costs that go into things like customer service in the first place.
While customer service is a critical part of any successful business, the truth is, it doesn’t tend to generate a lot of income. On the contrary, helping answer customer questions, guide their purchasing decisions, and provide follow-up support can cost businesses a lot of money. In fact, it’s estimated that the costs that go into customer service on a global scale can add up to $500 billion dollars per year.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the costs of customer service tend to be one of biggest expenditures of running a business. So it’s natural that companies would jump at the opportunity to minimize the costs of maintaining their customer service operations, an advantage that the efficiency and low overhead of automation and AI easily provide.
Personalizing the Experience
Of course, saving cash isn’t the only way that AI has the potential to transform customer service. Another major way that AI-related elements like machine learning and big data promise to make a significant change is in the area of personalization. In the past, general sales and product suggestions were the bread and butter of marketing. Now, though, the customer service sector is stepping up by offering individual recommendations based off of the data available.
For instance, companies are going all-in on helping customers make their own choices on the front end of the purchasing decision. Emails can already be automated to recommend sales and suggestions to customers based off of their own shopping interests. Another example is McDonald’s, which recently began blazing a similar trail when it purchased an AI company for $300 million. This was done in order to help create a more personalized dining experience that can even help recommend food choices based on things like the time of day or the weather.
Creating Neural Networks
Perhaps one of the greatest developing AI trends comes in the form of neural networks, that is the ability for AI to function in a way that mirrors the human brain. This ability to compile and process data in a human manner allows AI to not only provide efficient, personalized customer service. It also allows it to do so in a way that is comfortable for humans to interact with.
For instance, Google recently revealed its virtual assistant that could make calls, book haircuts, and even place complex dinner reservations without tipping off its artificial existence to the human it was interacting with. What makes this even more impressive is the fact that when an AI is given access to an individual company’s records, it’s neural network will be able to learn and grow according to the needs and knowledge of that company. In other words, it can adjust its operations in order to deal with the customer service needs of that particular organization.
A Bright Future
It may sound cliche, but AI truly does have the possibility to transform customer service as these and other AI skills continue to come to fruition. The ever-evolving and improving ability to interact with humans on a human level through neural networks is smoothing the waves of change. Add onto that the incredible efficiency and depth of knowledge that AI brings to the table, and there’s no doubt that machines will figure prominently in the future of an industry that has, traditionally speaking, been firmly in the hand of mankind.
The original version of this article was first published on Converge.