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What AI should look like in the consumer-directed economy
Mon, 21st Jan 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Among all the opinions on what constitutes ‘customer experience' (CX), one thing is certain: Consumers will not wait for businesses anymore.

We know that consumers now dictate the economy, and their constantly-evolving expectations are forcing organisations to establish new approaches to improve customer engagement. Specifically, customer service that is delivered effectively, efficiently and accurately to keep customers happy, and therefore factor towards all important customer loyalty.

While there are various ways to retain a loyal customer base – after all, what works in financial services is vastly different to the needs of hospital patients or travellers – it invariably boils down to the quality of the touch points through which customers interact with organisations.

According to an Australian study by KPMG, there are six CX components that are inextricably connected: Personalisation, integrity, expectations, time and effort, resolution, and empathy. Specifically, the report found that Australian consumers rated personalisation as the key driver for customer satisfaction, with over 20 percent ranking it as most important. This was closely followed by time and effort (19 percent) and integrity (18 percent).

But while these are quite distinct factors, they are only parts of a wider and more comprehensive strategy: Individualisation.

When discussing CX with Australian organisations – no matter their vertical – individualisation becomes a focal point as it refers not only delivering to the unique needs of any one consumer, but also anticipating their needs, and achieving a deeper level of engagement at the right time (and well before it's too late).

Individualisation also resolves the omnichannel conundrum. A study by Gartner indicates that organisations have been trying to integrate channels to provide seamless access for customers and this has been going on for a decade, if not longer. However, the analyst firm found that omnichannel has left 85 percent of organisations with inconsistent engagement channels, resulting in unsatisfied customers.

While individualisation is being helped along by various technological developments, artificial intelligence (AI) is a stand-out. And in this case, we aren't just talking about scripted web bots which are only prepared to deal with a predetermined set of queries. Instead, we refer to ‘conversational AI' – a bot made for a specific purpose that leverages machine learning to expand its knowledge base by communicating with other bots without the need for human intervention.

So, what does this look like the in the real world? A large Australian financial institution is currently using conversational AI in the form of voice biometrics to streamline CX. Whenever a customer calls through, they can immediately start discussing their enquiry as the AI works away in the background to authenticate the caller by their voice print. The result is that the customer no longer has to deal with pesky ID questions.

This is just one example of AI's potential to be a powerhouse in enhancing and revolutionising the CX by contributing to individualisation. When integrated with humans, organisations can do more than just respond to enquiries, but anticipate them. This also feeds into KPMG's observation that Australian customers want an emotionally-positive experience.

According to another Gartner study, by 2020, AI will be included in nearly every new software product, including an increased use in retail. It is projected that over 30 percent of retail CIOs will prioritise investment in AI in response to changing customer expectations.

This presents numerous opportunities for organisations and consumers. Just think about the last time you booked a holiday; whether it's conversing with travel agents or extensive research, the process is time-consuming and often exhausting as you scramble for the best airfares and accommodation, while also trying to figure out what to see while at your destination.

Machine learning creates endless possibilities within the travel industry that could wipe out this process. Imagine booting up a voice assistant on your phone, telling it you want to head to Switzerland, and having the bot create an itinerary that caters to your every need within a few minutes.

Due to the power of machine learning, the bots that make this happen learn about what you like and make suggestions accordingly – right down to finding the best chocolate spot in a smaller town. Travel agents need not worry though, as with the sheer number of options out there, agents will continue to play a critical role in humanising the automated process through empathy.

AI provides an element to CX that will help enhance a service with consistent and accurate information. It has the potential to offer a unified architecture between humans and technology to execute positive customer journeys, and efficiently provide a new level of individualised CX.

The aforementioned examples of improved CX are key to the future of customer loyalty. Through simplifying processes with the assistance of technology, organisations will aggregate KPMG's model into a compounded bundle, thereby better addressing customer needs and ultimately allowing their businesses to achieve CX in tomorrow's economy.