Fully cognitive artificial intelligence (AI) is not here yet, but something that feels like it is here now and already helping businesses create better customer experiences. That something is AI powered chatbots. This was one of the key takeaways from an April 13 VentureBeat webinar titled Customer Support: Unleash Your Superpowers with AI. Stewart Rogers, VentureBeat director of marketing technology, and Tony Jamous, president of Nexmo, also discussed how AI powered chatbots will be and are improving the work environment for contact center employees, another benefit of the continued automation of routine, repetitive tasks.
“Many imagine that AI is something out of a sci-fi movie,” Jamous said. “That it is cognitive and thinking. But we don’t see that now. We do see soft AI that gives the impression of intelligence.”
Specifically, AI is improving customer experiences through better customer service. According to Jamous, AI is driving customer service scenarios by shifting the focus to human plus factors that can:
- Anticipate the needs of the customer
- Augment the customer conversation to provide instant help
- Automate certain tasks—like updating credit card details—and so provide an instantly personalized experience
AI Helps Delight the Customer Without Losing the Human Touch
When businesses use AI in customer service, it’s about delighting the customer without losing the human touch, according to Jamous. AI helps do this by automating the business process of customer service based on the context of when the customer needs help.
For example, in the case of roadside assistance, when a customer calls, an AI powered chatbot can access the CRM database to see when she last called and the purpose of that call. Some customers call only when their cars break down, get a flat tire, run out of gas or something similar. AI powered chatbots can use this information, along with discrete attributes like the time of the call and the caller’s location to anticipate her needs and respond intelligently. In this case, it would send a tow truck to the customer’s location as soon as possible.
“AI can segment customers contextually at the touchpoint,” Jamous said. “So if you’re calling roadside assistance, a virtual assistant [AI powered chatbot] can augment the conversation by displaying the location of the customer [to the contact center rep].”
Also, businesses can delight customers by using automation to reduce friction for routine transactions. “You don’t have to go online to update payment details,” Jamous said. “Do it with chatbots.”
Mobile Customer Service with AI Powered Chatbots Sets the Bar
With 6.1 billion smartphone users forecast worldwide by 2020, many consumers will use mobile customer service as their primary—if not their sole—method for interacting with a business. Delivering customer service to all these users manually would be impossible. AI powered chatbots will be necessary.
“We see chatbots arriving fast in the customer service part of the value chain,” Jamous said. “When you are used to mobile customer service experience and then you call the bank and don’t get a personalized experience…our children will never go to a bank.”
And there’s already been research and development at scale by internet heavyweights to deploy the required technology. For example, the number of AI software projects at Google has grown exponentially from almost none in 2012 to more than 2,700 in 2015, according to Rogers. And there are now 34,000 chatbots on Facebook Messenger since its API was opened last year.
“Every company can now be a data company and access algorithmic intelligence,” Rogers said, before posing a question to Jamous. “So with AI exploding, what are the implications for every size of business?”
Any business needs software to gain a competitive advantage, according to Jamous. And if they don’t adopt technology that will improve customer service, they will be disrupted by more recent and agile startups.
“For example, banks have been disrupted by P2P algorithms,” Jamous said. “And Uber and Airbnb have disrupted the taxi and hotel industries [respectively].”
‘Chatbots in Hours’
One of the greatest advantages of AI powered chatbot based customer service is the ability to bring them online quickly. And the size of the business is not applicable to this process.
“Today, you can build chatbots in hours,” Jamous said. “In hours we built a chatbot to order any taxi service like Uber or Grab and integrated it with the Google API. It took us longer to write the documentation than to build the chatbot. And any [sized] company can use this technology to gain a competitive advantage. Size used to matter but not anymore.”
How to Get Started with AI Powered Chatbot Customer Service
With more than 50 percent of businesses inexperienced in chatbot customer service according the VentureBeat webinar survey, there are many questions about how to get started. Among the first is how to avoid pitfalls. Today, it’s about using open platforms and doing less coding, according to Jamous.
“The Nexmo API is open by design,” Jamous said. “You can integrate code with existing AI platforms. We connected the Google AI API and the ride-hailing chatbot. Then connected to the Uber API. AI has a role to play in open API platforms. AI is at the core of disruption.”
Over the last few years, customers have shifted from calling an 800 number for customer service to using chat, according to Jamous. He also noted that this shift was decided by the consumer and not the business. But with users segmented among so many chat applications, how can businesses make sure that they can reach all their customers?
Jamous cited KLM Royal Dutch Airlines as an example of how this can be done. The airline uses the Nexmo API to connect to various chat platforms, which can combat the fragmentation of the customer service channel, according to Jamous.
Augmenting Humans, Optimizing Human Interactions
The customer service function is still in the early stages of using chatbots to augment human interaction, according to Rogers. But we are not far from bots handling human interaction entirely, he thinks.
“But do we want to eliminate people?” Rogers asked. “They have a brain and know how to use it. Do you want them to answer menial questions 200 times a day?”
So will AI powered chatbots really help humans or just replace existing roles?
“I truly believe it’s about improving employee work and making it more meaningful,” Jamous said. “You might see a business manager make a short-term decision, but in the long term AI will make our lives better.”
And while Rogers notes that AI powered chatbots will eliminate jobs in customer service, he predicts that there will be many who use it for augmentation.
“Technology also produces jobs,” Rogers said. “For example, there was no such thing as a web designer 30 years ago. There will be many new jobs created with the rise of AI.”
AI in Customer Service Beyond Chatbots
The way it works now, chatbots need customers to ask questions before they respond, according to Rogers. AI could power predictive analytics that enable agents to anticipate a problem and communicate to the customer before it occurs. He advises businesses send customers an AI-based communication that instructs them how to use the company’s product.
“AI will help you understand how to communicate to the customers to retain them and increase their satisfaction,” Rogers said.