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How Artificial Intelligence is Making Customer Support More Efficient

This article was updated on July 13, 2021

According to Reputation Builder, an angry customer is two or three times more likely to leave a negative review, and 80 percent of customers will steer clear of a business with negative reviews.

Getting it wrong may even earn you some really bad press. Getting it right isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible either. So how do you keep customers happy?

According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, the answer is quite simple:

Stop trying to delight your customers. Get their problems solved fast instead.

But how do you that? How can you reply faster to queries and improve customer satisfaction? Is a passionate and motivated customer support team enough?

Well, that’s where the real challenges lie.

Customers are highly impatient, and the longer they wait for an issue to get fixed, the edgier they become. In a world where everything seems to be immediate, customers expect you to keep up with a fast-paced reality and they will grant you very little time to solve their issues (10 minutes, to be exact).

However, the funny thing is that at this particular moment in time, it’s never been so easy to improve response rates and increase efficiency in customer support. Sure, you have more demanding customers, but you also have the best of technology at your service.

And here is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes in. I mean, we’ve been more or less ok with machines doing our calculations, processing our data, translating our words, even driving our cars, so it’s about time that we use AI to deliver the best possible customer experience.

But first things first.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Most people that I talk to about Artificial Intelligence tend to see it as this revolutionary technology that will either doom us all or turn our world into a Star Wars-like universe where we all get our own personal protocol droid. But there’s much more to it other than pure fantasy.

Therefore, the first step in using AI effectively is understanding what it actually consists of. Broadly speaking, it mimics some elements of human intelligence in machines.

It works through machine learning. That’s where an AI model is trained on certain sets of data to learn what’s normal, what’s not normal, what’s expected of it, and what information it needs to output.

Historical data is normally used to train the machine — much like how you’ll show a toddler endless pictures of dogs in order for them to understand that a four-legged, furry creature that barks is, indeed, a dog.

Once trained on the right data, the machine can begin predicting results or replying to common queries. There lies the appeal of Artificial Intelligence for customer support.

AI-powered customer service is the new future

Gartner claims that by 2020, only 15 percent of customer interactions will be handled by humans. Quite impressive, if you ask me.

And this makes a lot of sense in an area such as customer service. You get common queries all the time. You deal with large amounts of data every day. You have humans to review the whole process. And you have the constant need for speed.

So how do you get started?  

Automate what you can

They say humans yearn for human contact. The logic behind this is that we are a social species, we live in society and are designed or programmed to interact with each other.

On the other hand, isn’t this the argument that was used against taking away the toll operators? Or even the iconic phone operator? Against self-service checkouts at supermarkets? And look at how that turned out.

Chances are, your audience won’t mind automation as long as it decreases their effort of getting a problem solved. That’s why self-service, if done right, is so powerful in customer support.

I don’t know about you, but I hate talking on the phone (let alone with a customer support agent). And I’m not alone. According to a recent survey, 75 percent of millennials prefer texting over talking on the phone. If you add that to the fact that 81 percent of all customers attempt to take care of matters themselves before reaching out to a live representative, you notice the trend rising.

So where do you go from here?

We don’t automate everything. We start by defining a simple ground rule: “Automation is great, if – and only if – it brings you closer to your customer. Anything else is a bad move.”

There is some science to this: research shows we don’t mind using digital channels (FAQs, YouTube, how-to’s, Google) to get information. But we turn to humans to get help. Invoca, studying this, realised human conversation is still the primary way “people make complex purchases or emotional decisions.”

In the end, it’s not a matter of AI replacing your customer support agents but rather giving them superpowers for them to be more efficient.

How can AI help customer support?

Artificial Intelligence has been used in customer support for all sorts of things. But here are three of the most relevant uses cases:

1. Customer support on autopilot

There’s just so much you can automate. So why not put part of your customer service operations on autopilot?

That’s exactly what platforms such Digital Genius are doing by using AI to understand conversations, automate repetitive processes and solve your customers’ problems. This will help you automatically deal with the most common queries such as refund requests, order status inquiries, cancellations, and so. And the great about this is that it will allow you to cut down costs and keep things efficient (of course nobody wants to lose $62 billion due to poor customer service, right?)

This also enables you to monitor all the processes real-time so that you and your team have an overview of what’s happening and can act if something goes wrong.

2. Live chatbots are taking over

According to this report by Forrester, the number of customers that use live chat over phone and email has increased by 50 percent since 2012. In fact, live chat is now so popular that it is the most preferred customer communication channel, according to this study.

No wonder then that more than two billion messages are exchanged between people and companies every month on Facebook Messenger alone…

And the great thing about live chat is that it can be operated by machines only. I mean, sure, humans may have to jump in if you’re dealing with more complex issues. But if we’re talking about FAQs that’s quite easy for a machine to do. And they’re also good at it. It’s fast, engaging, and of straightforward implementation.

And you have a lot of options to look into. From BotEngine to Intercom’s Operator, it’s just a whole new world that is actually starting to resemble Star Wars a lot to me (too bad none of these bots are as funny as C3PO or R2D2, but like in Star Wars too, there’s always hope).

Either way, this article from LiveChat will give you a pretty good idea of which bots to go for.  

3. Found in translation

Another ground-breaking transformation that AI has brought to customer support is related to translation. We all know how difficult it is to deal with international audiences and being able to speak their language.

Do you hire native agents for every language you support?

Well, you don’t need to. With the help of AI and machine translation, you can put your customers first regardless of what languages they speak. Know what they’re saying, respond faster to their queries, and increase satisfaction overall.

And I’m not talking about Google Translate. Because nobody would really trust Google Translate with everything you need to tell your customers (for this or that reason — and many others).

However, when Artificial Intelligence is combined with human intelligence the results are much better. Why? Because machines are fast at delivering a translation and then humans are great at reviewing it and at correcting the mistakes that were made — that’s actually what we do at Unbabel.

So if you’re struggling with multilingual customer service, just let me know and maybe Unbabel can help you understand and be understood by your customers in any language.

In the end, it all comes down to making smart decisions and understanding where Artificial Intelligence can help you achieve better results, increase customer satisfaction, cut down costs, scale your operations, and have a better and personalised customer experience.

Bottom line, it’s like what we usually say at Unbabel: “Let the humans do what they do best and have machines do the rest”.

Edmund Ovington

Edmund Ovington is the VP, Global Alliances at Unbabel, as well as building out Unbabel's US operations from NYC. He drives value for Unbabel’s customer base through close relationships with key partners and investors including; Salesforce, Microsoft, Zendesk and Convergys. Edmund has over 10 years' experience scaling technology, specifically B2B SaaS companies such as Yammer.


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