CX’s intelligent heart: how AI can drive best-in-class customer experiences

Businesses have swiftly recognised the potential for AI to improve their connections with customers and meet rising expectations, while reducing costs

Zendesk research

Artificial intelligence is already positively impacting customer support services for businesses by taking the load off human operators, automatically providing supporting data and enabling bots that take the experience to new levels. These applications highlight the role for AI and related data-processing technology to significantly enhance the customer experience (CX) delivered by companies.

In just 12 months, the term ‘generative AI’ has become inescapable in business lexicon and we’re seeing reality start to deliver on hype: processes are being reimagined, business critical skills are shifting and interactions with consumers are evolving.

New research from customer support platform Zendesk demonstrates the potential that AI holds to elevate brand interactions and help businesses unlock best-in-class customer experiences. Some 69% of UK CX leaders say they are completely reimagining their customer journey as a result. There’s a sense that this technology is building on what’s come before in terms of CX – and even taking it to new levels.

Eric Jorgensen, vice-president of enterprise sales EMEA at Zendesk, has first-hand knowledge here. He says: “The overarching trend is simplification, automation and providing better-quality experiences: reduced costs and higher quality output. AI has become a strong enabler of that and a game-changer in the past 12 months. A lot of things people have wanted to do for a long time they are starting to be able to do.”

He also believes that AI tech is opening up new avenues of opportunity based on fast, efficient analysis of data. The benefits to businesses include enhancing the conversational commerce opportunity by making it possible to turn chatbots into digital agents, build stronger experiences and cross-sell products and services. For instance, from the initial customer contact and analysis of a conversation, AI tech can determine whether to route to a digital or human agent to provide the best outcome for the customer.

Enhancing the customer experience

AI also has the potential to progress beyond mere efficiency. More than two-thirds (68%) of UK CX leaders believe chatbots can build a stronger emotional connection with their customers. For instance, AI has the power to summarise all previous conversations for agents, who can then provide a tailored, personalised experience that also saves time for the customer. And, in the case of deploying a digital bot, generative AI can recognise keywords and generate a fast response that incorporates the best tone of voice for the customer need.

These advances are becoming increasingly necessary to meet rising customer expectations. Consumers have come to expect better than basic support and want companies to truly enhance their experiences. The Zendesk research shows that 41% of UK consumers (59% globally) believe the way they interact with a company will completely change within two years due to generative AI.

The key here is to adopt a customer experience approach that is open, honest and based on being clear to customers when they are dealing with a digital agent. For instance, cryptocurrency platform Luno built a customer support chatbot and gave it a name, Toshi, to ensure that customers knew that they were interacting initially with a bot rather than a human. The bot doesn’t pretend to be a person and has its own, clear robot persona based on the values of the Luno brand and the principles of conversational design. This type of transparency can help to mitigate against the impact of doom scenarios involving ‘AI hallucinations’. If mistakes are made, and it’s clear AI is responsible, then at least customers understand the situation. 

Building customer trust

Deploying AI to enable a more personal digital experience is valuable in terms of building trust with customers. The data that exists to personalise the experience via a human agent is also present for a digital agent. Interacting with a digital bot, which knows something about the customer and their issue, then leads to conversational commerce by leveraging personalised data.

Importantly, the Zendesk survey reveals that AI is far from a gimmick and delivers real business results. Some 88% of UK CX leaders who are using generative AI report strong ROI.

This positive impact on business results is not based solely on efficiencies and decimating jobs in call centres. Jorgensen believes that the tech has the potential to boost the role of customer experience agents to new levels by reducing the time it takes to introduce new people into roles and train them to lead with empathy.

He says: “The number of interactions we have with customers every day is rising. Agents will deal with high-quality, complex cases and the digital agents will deal with high-volume, less complex cases. AI and related technology will help us to deal with scale and provide quick answers to less complex things, leaving agents with more time to deal with complex problems, upselling and cross-selling.”

Creating world class experiences

There’s no doubt that this evolution brings organisational challenges in terms of data integration. There’s also an issue involving job functions because of the rising concerns about maintaining levels of customer trust as AI evolves. Some 83% of UK CX leaders see themselves as responsible for making sure their customers’ data is safe, as opposed to the IT department.

That’s a positive factor because greater oversight enables these CX leaders to provide a more compelling experience to drive the business forward. Democratising the ownership of data governance means that business units that own the data can build their processes around being a good guardian. IT departments will continue to be involved, but with the CX team taking a much bigger stake than previously.

This good governance is so vital because where businesses lose customer trust, they also see lower levels of loyalty. Providing a robust and trusted platform that ensures data security is therefore a fundamental part of delivering world class CX.

While there are certainly challenges in implementing generative AI into customer experience, businesses are close to realising an ideal scenario in which computing power and processing is meeting their goals.

Jorgensen concludes: “We’re at an inflection point in technology where we’ve got the scale, the database search capability and the large language models to look at every customer interaction and assess it from a quality point of view. That really takes us from generalising interactions to personalising.”

Liberty puts emotion into the AI-driven experience

Luxury retailer Liberty is working to deliver a fast, friendly and factually correct customer experience. Building on solid foundations, it is now using Zendesk AI to automatically classify and route incoming enquiries to the right agents at the right time.

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