Believe it or not, it’s been 12 years since the first iPhone was announced and over time, the technology created by Apple has changed the world as we know it. So much so, hardly anyone can remember life before the iPhone.
Pre-iPhone we were perfectly satisfied with our PDAs and flip phones – all of which had a fraction of the power we now take for granted. QWERTY keyboards were still in fashion and phones were still primarily used for calls with limited access to email, calendars, and contact lists. But at the time, being able to access email through a phone – even if the experience was clunky — was groundbreaking. Most of us couldn’t even imagine the world Apple was about to present to us.
Even when the iPhone came along, and our new normal was introduced, people were wary. It was billed as a game-changer – but outside of Apple die-hards – most consumers couldn’t grasp why a phone like this was needed, especially with its price tag. And the idea of taking away the physical keyboard seemed like a radical move.
The evolution of artificial intelligence in customer experience
However, shortly after its launch, consumers realised the power an iPhone could give them. Email, music, full access to the internet – all in one little machine. In one fell swoop Apple transformed the mobile phone market by giving us what we didn’t know we needed. It changed the paradigm by changing consumer expectations. Apple had faith that “if they built it, they would come” and they did. By the time other competitors got on board, they were playing catch-up.
Is AI the New iPhone?
The same thing is now happening with artificial intelligence (AI) – especially in the realm of customer experience (CX). We recently conducted a study with research firm Vanson Bourne to understand how consumers and businesses view CX and found that over one-third of consumers were not impressed with their customer journey. What’s more, 83% of consumers said that they had at least one issue while interacting with a brand.
Despite not being dazzled by the experience, most consumers are living in a world of “this is just the way customer service is”. And this is where AI is having its very own iPhone moment. AI has the power to transform the customer experience in the same way Apple transformed mobile phones. AI-powered CX technologies like chatbots offer customers support without the wait times, the ability to self-serve 24/7 and a better, more personalised, experience when they do reach an agent. But similar to the iPhone, some consumers are still not sold on AI. Instead of “wait, there’s no keyboard?” we hear “wait, there’s no human – I’m not sure a bot can help me?”
Despite some consumer skepticism, the study also found that a large majority of businesses – around 88% — are investing in or exploring AI. Why? Because they believe that AI technology will change customer service for the better. And like the iPhone, while only a small number of consumers are using chatbots today, most do believe it will improve customer service in the long run.
AI is presenting the opportunity for companies to be disruptive by differentiating themselves through a great customer experience. The days of customers accepting sub-par support won’t last forever, and the companies on the forefront of this shift are the ones who will win their loyalty out of the gate.
And while it may feel less risky to wait for customers to start asking for a more modern experience before investing, by then it may be too late. Similar to the early days of the iPhone, consumers don’t really know what’s possible – or how it will make the things better – until they experience it for themselves. Steve Jobs himself said “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Today’s AI technologies are more intelligent and contextual than ever before. The rise of digital assistants like Alexa and Siri that allow us to carry out a myriad of tasks with minimal effort – has made many consumers wonder “why can’t everything be this easy?”. As a result, businesses are starting to tap into this trend and are seeing the huge potential AI – not just to help the customer journey, but also to streamline processes, reduce costs and increase the productivity of their service agents.
Today, AI is serving on the frontlines of customer service, handling the repetitive tasks that previously took up the majority of an agent’s time – freeing them up to focus their time and energy on more complex and high-value engagements.
>See also: AI’s impact on customer experience
Additionally, AI is playing co-pilot to the agents – helping them deliver more personalized service by prompting them with information on a customer’s history with the brand, preferences, and sharing suggestions and offers that particular customer may appreciate. The symbiotic relationship between agents and bots has never been stronger, but it wasn’t always that way.
In the beginning
In its humble beginnings, the AI we experienced in customer service was a far cry from the what we saw in futuristic sci-fi films. Instead of conversational holograms and robots, consumers were faced with glitchy interactive voice response systems and chatbots that could only answer very specific direct questions. Not only was this frustrating for consumers, but it also created a host of problems for businesses who found that they couldn’t effectively communicate with their customers.
And while AI technology has changed dramatically since then, companies worry that customer recollection of those days will inhibit adoption today. However, just as the technology has matured, so have the expectations of customers. As customers become more digitally comfortable, they hardly care if they are talking to a human or a bot – as long as their issue or question gets resolved.
Those businesses that are prepared to embrace AI early to solve CX challenges will be the ones that set the bar for everyone else. And while much of the focus is on customers, AI is also helping businesses internally by helping to scale and train support teams faster, increase productivity, lower costs, and deliver crucial insights to help businesses continue to optimize the customer journey.
Now is not the time to sit on the sidelines. Waiting for customers to demand an AI-powered experience, may mean it’s already too late. The technology is ready and the benefits are clear. AI’s moment is now.
Written by Ryan Lester, Director of Customer Engagement Technologies, LogMeIn