Customer Service Prediction Season is Over – AI, Automation, Bots….Let’s Get to Work

By 3 Minute Read

A perspective on customer service predictions for 2018 and what it means for the service industry

Each year from October to early January sees the outpouring of predictions covering all sorts of industries, sports and business sectors – from NFL predictions to cataclysmic predictions about the future to technical and science predictions to AI predictions from leading colleges like MIT – it seems like everyone wants in on the act.

So instead of coming up with yet another set of predictions for 2018, we decided to take a look at the customer service predictions covering customer service AI and chat bots from a number of leading companies and try and identify the common themes with a view to coming up with an action plan. They won’t be predictions unless someone puts them into action.

We reviewed the following sets of customer service predictions:
Forrester’s Predictions 2018 – A year of reckoning
9 Critical Contact Center Trends for 2018
Customer Contact Week – 2018 Customer Contact Predictions
Forbes Magazine – 10 Customer Service and CX Predictions for 2018
GetVOIP – Top 10 Contact Center Trends for 2018

Now these are by no means the only customer service predictions reports out there but these provided a good snapshot across analysts and thought leaders on large and small companies. We were curious to see what the common themes were and whether there was any practical information to CIOs, Customer Service Directors or other stakeholders as to how to implement some of these strategies and predictions.

So what was everyone predicting? AI, Bots, Customer Self Service…..

1. Surprise, surprise, it’s AI!

Well, surprise, surprise (or not!) – Artificial Intelligence appeared in every report – with some predicting that it “will drastically change our lives within the next few years” and others being more cautious and saying that it “can’t completely replace human support” or that the winner this year will be a “hybrid AI” whereby AI is used to “suggest” responses to human agents who then make the final decision. Forrester were alone in predicting that a majority of AI projects in 2018 will underwhelm, but only because they fail to model operational considerations and that companies should consider how it can “reinvent business” and take a broader view. Predicting that AI will have an impact on customer service in 2018 is a little like predicting that the internet would have an impact on IT in 1999 – its almost a foregone conclusion, but people can only begin to imagine how it will disrupt and there is no consensus as to what shape it will have. Ultimately AI is a technology and it’s the applications that are built using AI that will change and affect how customer service is delivered in the future.

2. Self-Service

The next most common prediction was that self-service support continues to grow and rise in popularity. Again, nothing really new here – self service has been a goal for years and years as companies look to lower the cost of delivering customer service with very few understanding the long-term investment needed to get a return on truly great customer care. In fact, that’s what the AI applications are really trying to do – increase the amount of self service by having a virtual assistant respond rather than a human. The real opportunity in self-service is to expand availability and convenience for the customer and this is something that two of the reports called out explicitly. Over the last few years, we have seen significant growth in live chat as investment in FAQ and other self service technologies has stagnated. But live chat suffers from the same problems as phone based agents – they are often closed when you most need them and the session-based technology can be frustrating when the session drops and you have to start all over again. Using modern AI applications to drive self-service would not only bring FAQ technology into the 21st century but it would greatly increase the availability and convenience to customers without significantly driving up costs.

3. Chatbots (Bots)

This leads us to (chat)bots – two-thirds of the reports called out the rise of chat bots with IBM calling out to “Go Bots or go home” and Forrester weaving the concept of “intelligent agents” into several of their predictions. The opportunity to customize individual conversations on a grand scale is something that offers the opportunity to personalize as well as improve accessibility and convenience. This can also introduce the notion of conversational commerce but in a deja-vu moment, some customers are questioning why I should buy from a bot if it can’t solve my service issue (telesales anyone!). At the end of the day, its actually about the experience that customers receive that will make the difference – customer experience was also highlighted by two-thirds of the reports – and if chatbots are designed with this in mind, as well as with a human opt-out option, they can probably achieve the same level of productivity improvement that IVRs did twenty years ago in the voice world.

So these were the most common predictions – other notables included the importance of analytics, security, consistency across channels, automation (and AI) for human agents, and some sector specific predictions like banking and PSD2.

Putting this into action is more difficult but a simple plan might be to look at how AI and chat bots can reinvent the customer experience of self-service – expanding availability and convenience and bringing FAQs into the 21st century. That would be a pretty good win and a solid foundation to building an AI driven company.

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