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An Expert Warns Businesses Not to Rely Too Much on AI for Customer Service During the Pandemic

Senior vice president and general manager of Khoros Care, Mike Betzer, answers a few questions on how businesses have responded to the increased volume of customer service complaints during the COVID-19 pandemic and warns that AI can be helpful but it’s possible to overuse.

Mike Betzer

Senior Vice President and General Manager, Khoros Care

How have customer expectations changed since the pandemic? What challenges are companies now facing and how should they go about solving them?

Customers increasingly expect brands to meet them where they are. About half of consumers who engage with brands on social media are reaching out about customer care concerns. Furthermore, over 65 percent of social media users across all platforms expect brands to respond, regardless of whether the initial outreach from the consumer was via private messages or public posts. 

In the past six months, these expectations have only heightened, and many businesses have had to pivot their customer engagement priorities quickly. Many are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize human connections.

What changes do you think are now permanent?

The use of AI and bots to help manage increased volume in support calls and social media inquiries. Having a simple automated welcome message makes customers feel supported and helps set expectations from the get-go.

Additionally, there are more alternative methods of customer contact besides traditional phone calls. Give customers the ability to engage with your business on their preferred channel — SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat, Google’s Business Messages — and they’ll be happier. However, these communications must be streamlined across channels into a single engagement hub to help agents support customers in less time and effectively solve customer issues.

How can companies looking to leverage AI ensure that their connections with customers are effective and authentic?

Listen to your customers and understand who they are — and then don’t forget to treat them like a human. Seventy-one percent of consumers say when brands or companies overuse AI, it makes them feel like they don’t value them as a customer.

A brand can use AI and ML to complement its customer outreach. For example, set up unique social listening keywords by platform and be proactive in reaching out to users, using a human touch to address potential challenges upfront and providing a better overall experience for your customer, no matter their preferred platform.

How can companies use AI to improve efficiency in their contact centers?

Consumers are now in charge on every channel and expect the brand to engage on their terms or risk losing their business and damaging brand reputation. Eighty-eight percent of consumers prefer the brands they interact with to use a mix of AI and humans, or humans alone; only nine percent prefer an entirely AI-led interaction.

Brands must evolve alongside consumer expectations. New digital cloud-based AI and ML customer solutions help to “future-proof” their infrastructure. There’s increased attention on scaling digital channels, being “real” and human within customer engagements, and continually listening and learning to create the best digital experience for customers.

What are some great recent examples you’ve seen of digital support?  Any examples that were less great?

Airlines are doing a great job of supporting their customers. Southwest Airlines led the charge with a simple, fast, easy, vibrant community, and then other airlines, like Qantas, Delta, and United, followed suit. They’ve talked with each other and realized digital support is all about providing a better, more seamless experience for customers, and they’re taking the steps to make it happen.

The top reasons for negative AI-led interactions with brands are a lack of issue resolution (56%) and an interaction that felt robotic and cold (47%). Brands that fall into these categories will have more frustrated customers.

What are some common pitfalls in delivering digital care and how can companies avoid these?

The single biggest change management problem for brands is to teach their company to get out of their efficiency mindset. That requires an overhaul in your thought process — stop thinking about efficiency and start thinking about effectiveness. A lot of chat functionalities are about efficiency, which is why they’re often lackluster. That’s where asynchronous messaging and AI come in. Companies using those capabilities are being the most effective for their customers.

What advice do you have for companies that are looking to get started?

In our new work reality, brands have been tasked with equipping agents to remotely handle the increased volume that comes with a crisis like COVID-19, all while not compromising customer experience. This has driven increased demand for modern, digital solutions that don’t require bulky on-premise hardware.

To start, look critically at your customer engagement in the initial months of the pandemic. Apply those lessons learned to your business continuity and disaster recovery plans. Any solution that doesn’t shift conversation volume away from volatile phone systems or add AI and automation to enhance operational capacity is vulnerable to the next disaster.

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