Not too long ago, the idea of conversational AI seemed like something out of science fiction. Today, chatbots and virtual assistants are becoming more commonplace. And as they become more advanced, they’re playing a more central role in the customer experience (CX). Read on to explore how companies are using conversational AI and customer service to their advantage. 

No matter the industry, it seems that business leaders are facing the same conundrum: How to give customers a great experience, and make a profit, in the midst of perpetual labor shortages?

In survey after survey, business leaders cite labor shortages, employee turnover and workforce enablement among their top challenges—followed closely thereafter by ensuring great customer service to improve customer retention and loyalty. Meanwhile, consumer preferences are shifting as more people try to solve customer service issues on their own, rather than talking to someone on the phone. But all too often, customers are left with ineffective bots that do more to generate angst than they do to resolve an issue. 

Investing to improve the customer experience 

With this in mind, many companies are investing in chatbots and conversational AI technology that sound more natural and are more effective in helping customers. With the help of natural language processing (NLP), these chatbots can more effectively replicate a one-on-one conversation, identify side-issues that may need to be addressed, and steer conversations toward a resolution—or seamlessly loop-in a live human who has the necessary expertise.

For example, a chatbot using conversational AI could identify a specific term in a customer’s query (also known as a named entity) to more quickly surface the nature of the problem and relevant resources within the company’s knowledge base of help articles, taking some of the load off  customer service agents. Alternatively, a virtual assistant could automate processes and administrative tasks, so agents can more expeditiously resolve a customer’s issue. 

According to an MIT survey, 90 percent of companies reported measurable improvements in their ability to resolve complaints with conversational AI and chatbots. 

Verizon adopted conversational AI and chatbots a few years ago to improve its customer service, something that would empower, augment and inspire its employees. To that end, it was essential that the chatbot work with the company’s existing ecosystem of tools (rather than being a bolted-on addition that required extra work. 

And from a customer standpoint, Verizon wanted to provide a conversational experience that felt human, that authenticated the customer’s identity and called them by name, and that didn’t overwhelm customers with a litany of choices. They could merely provide 1-2 sentences about what they needed help with and the CAI’s natural language capabilities would take it from there. 

Finally, it was important that KPIs around the technology, business and customer successes all accrue to providing better customer satisfaction and wallet satisfaction. On that front, Verizon’s head of conversational AI, Bala Maddali, considers the technology a “game changer,” for its ability to help CS agents identify the different packages that they could offer, in order to cross-sell or up-sell customers who are thinking about leaving for a competitor.

Providing personalized customer service with Voice AI

As part of a pilot program, last year Toyota launched a digital version of the owner’s manual for the 2021 Toyota Sienna, available on the Toyota Drivers Companion app. According to the company press release, the digital manual provided an “easily accessible virtual voice within the Toyota Driver’s Companion [that] lets drivers ask personal questions about their specific Sienna and receive immediate answers via voice, display and interactive input.” 

Toyota launched the pilot as part of its attempt to help broaden the appeal of the Sienna and give drivers the ability to ask personalized questions and get real-time assistance in “the moments that matter.” 

Ravi Sundararajan, COO of the conversational messaging platform Gupshup points to personalization as one of the hallmarks of the modern customer service experience—the other attributes being empathy, speed and convenience. 

“Consumers now expect brands to provide access to information and support/service anytime, anywhere, on any channel. So omnichannel customer service delivery has become the number one business priority, and a key differentiator for brands,” says Sundararajan. 

Ensuring great service, seamless experience when chatbots can’t help

Yet for all the improvements in providing personalized content and recommended resources, chatbots still struggle with how to respond to a customer’s question when they don’t know the answer. Maddali points to this as one of the biggest problems Verizon needs to solve in order to retain and satisfy customers.  

“If we don’t provide the right answer, and they type in the question again, we need to have the ability to clearly say ‘Sorry, I’m not able to help you. Let me connect you with an expert,’ ” says Maddali. 

To this end, Verizon formed a team of people who constantly look at KPIs such as a chatbot’s error percentage and value recognition percentage. Based on a chatbot’s performance, they identify areas where additional training is needed. Until that training is completed, Verizon’s conversational AI will automatically detect the named entity and hand the customer off to a customer service agent.

“As long as we have the chatbots and the personnel, then it’s more about understanding the context of the situation.” 

In the struggle to provide great customer experiences, Verizon and Toyota both stand as great examples of using conversational AI to deliver on customers’ increasingly sophisticated expectations.

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