Use AI to Make Self-Service More Human

Amazon is reportedly considering opening thousands of no-checkout Go stores by 2021. It’s not a mystery why consumers and business owners would embrace AI-powered self-serve options like Amazon Go. Customers can get what they want without waiting in a checkout line and employers can reduce staffing costs and other expenses.

However, we’re still a long way from artificially intelligent self-service replacing all human support. That’s because when making an important decision or asking for clarification, most people still want to talk to a qualified human expert.

A study by Google shows that 61 percent of consumers call a business when they’re in the purchase phase of the buying cycle. And 83 percent of consumers prefer dealing with human beings over digital channels to solve customer services issues, according to a survey by Accenture.

So, how can companies balance the demand for self-service and knowledgeable associates? Here are 6 ways to do just that.

1. Embrace frictionless support

Don’t isolate self-service or live customer support from other channels. Both should be part of the end-to-end customer experience. To do that, analyse your customer journey map to understand when and why customers frequently switch from self-help to contacting an associate.

If it’s not something that can be solved by fixing the self-help option, make the transition as seamless as possible by ensuring that associates already have the information they need to help the customer, such as through online call tracking. The goal is to eliminate one of the biggest pain points for customers: repeating information they already shared in one channel.

2. Don’t make assumptions

It may seem counterintuitive, but behavioural data about your online customers can provide insights for face-to-face interactions. For example, eMarketer reports that Warby Parker, the eyewear retailer known for its self-serve options, considers the location of its online customers when deciding where to open brick-and-mortar stores.

The company discovered that nearly 75 percent of customers who buy at its physical stores have browsed and done research on the company’s website first. So, don’t assume that consumers who use a brand’s digital services wouldn’t use other channels.

3. Show that you value your customers’ time

Self-service is great until it doesn’t work. Don’t aggravate customers further by making it difficult to get in touch with a representative. Make the “contact us” section easy to find and offer multiple ways for customers to get in touch (phone, chat, email, etc.) Clear communication is also critical. Display the hours that representatives are available, the estimated waiting time (or offer a call back option) and let customers know when they can expect a response.

4. Treat customers like individuals

Consumers have different needs and preferences and customer support should reflect that. Instead of one-size-fits-all self-service, for instance, offer lifestyle-specific buying guides and interactive comparison tools to deliver a more personalised research and buying experience. And if customers still have questions, make sure associates have studied the self-help tools so as to understand where they can provide additional value.

5. Don’t waste a chance to connect with the customer

As more services become automated, companies can’t afford to miss an opportunity to form emotional connections with their customers. The key is to understand what touchpoints should or should not be automated.

Simple repetitive tasks like updating a password are better handled through automation. But stressful or complicated situations call for human contact. Consider banking. As Forrester analysts noted in a report about the customer experience at banks, “A call with a person evoked the greatest amount of positive sentiment from direct banks’ customers—even though these customers have chosen a bank that operates without physical branches.”

6. Use AI to train front-line employees faster and more

Companies need knowledgeable frontline employees who can quickly learn how to assist customers. But traditional employee training programs are often tedious and provide little real-time feedback, notes my colleague Lamont Exeter, partner in TTEC Digital’s Learning & Performance group.

Today, employees can “learn and develop their skills in a more personalised and empowered environment with the help of chatbots, augmented operational learning environments, and collaborative knowledge tools,” Exeter says. “For example, our patent-pending RealPlay AI solution employee learning model is an innovative simulated learning model that allows participants to interact in real time with an AI bot conducting training scenarios.”

The future of customer support is not a zero-sum game

Instead of approaching AI self-service and human associates as a zero-sum game, think of it as a relay race. The companies that weigh the strengths and weaknesses of AI and humans in a combined support system are getting the best of both worlds—and will ultimately win the customer.