Artificial Intelligence and Its Potential Impact on Customer Engagement, Customer Loyalty

We hear time and time again about artificial intelligence. To some, it sounds exciting and impactful in the loyalty marketing industry. To others, it evokes a 2001 science fiction film directed by Steven Spielberg.

Loyalty360 opted to ask an expert about artificial intelligence and its potential impact on customer engagement and customer loyalty. Enter Holger Reisinger, Senior Vice President of Large Enterprise Solutions at Jabra, a leading audio and communication technology specialist.

AI is a hot topic among loyalty marketers today. Can you talk about the current state of AI and its potential impact on customer loyalty and what you see for the future?
Reisinger: Artificial intelligence is infiltrating us daily from our personal devices to enterprise chatbots. Analyst firm Gartner predicts that 20 percent of all user interactions with a smartphone in 2019 will take place via voice interfaces or “virtual personal assistants.” A study from Oracle found that eight out of 10 businesses have or are planning to implement AI as a customer service solution by 2020.  

As companies look to shave costs and build efficiency into their workflows, cutting back on human interactions and robotizing customer service makes sense to some degree. Front-end, AI-powered bots already converse with customers online, answering simple questions and reducing the need to interact with an agent. And some organizations already tap the power of AI to support human agents, reducing wait time by providing service representatives with an issue synopsis and appropriate response. 

However, while we may be acclimated to interfacing with AI on a personal level, companies need to remember the reason that customers reach out – they need help. In the age of Google, customers will likely have already tried to find the answer themselves before picking up the phone. Companies must also remember that positive customer service is a pillar for building loyalty. In fact, those who receive the best experiences spend 140 percent more than those who receive the meager ones and are more likely to recommend a company to their peers. So, while AI is evolving quickly and can help to address a number of standard customer questions, the human element cannot be replaced at a complex level.

In the future, organizations that can figure out how to properly organize their customer interactions to satisfy the need for both quick responses and complex issue resolution will be able to successfully deliver a positive experience. Those that can’t will ultimately alienate even the most loyal of customers.

What is being done well with AI among loyalty marketers and where do the challenges lie?
Reisinger: Organizations that are tapping the power of AI in the form of chatbots and AI-assisted agents are helping to reduce call times and improve the speed in which customers can get answers to the most common of questions. This helps to satisfy customers’ needs for instant information.

The challenge lies in the pendulum swinging too far. Organizations cannot replace their entire customer service team with AI. Instead, they have to find the right balance for their business and pinpoint the best way to organize their service so that customers who have already done their research aren’t stuck in the loop, pressing “0” in hopes of overriding the automation to reach an agent. We’ve all had that experience and it’s very frustrating. 

Is customer satisfaction suffering because of AI? If so, how?
Reisinger: The biggest drop in the American Customer Satisfaction Index since the mid-90s occurred between 2013 and 2015. By the time a customer picks up the phone to call a customer service agent, their patience is often worn thin. The hyper-informed customer has likely already devoted significant time to pouring through search engines and online materials with no luck in finding answers. Instead of an automated response or robotic answer, customers want an empathetic listener that can help them to troubleshoot and resolve the issue. The key for businesses will be to define the fine line between reducing costs through automation without annoying their customers, all while actually helping them. 

Loyalty marketers talk about authenticity and making emotional connections with customers to spark brand loyalty. Where does AI fit in this scenario?
Reisinger: While a robot cannot make an emotional connection with a caller, it will decrease customer wait time, which, in turn, can help to improve satisfaction and loyalty. AI determines issues and efficiently finds solutions, enabling human customer service agents to answer questions faster than ever before.

Even so, making an emotional connection is sacrificed with the adoption of AI technologies. That’s why it’s critical that companies make the most of each human interaction. Calls can become a key brand differentiator instead of a cost center, helping to bolster loyalty.

Smart organizations are doing a few simple things to make these human touchpoints even more valuable and satisfactory:

Brands are inviting customers to have a conversation with a real person. They are posting the company phone number for all to see and inviting customers to call to purchase direct from them, provide feedback, ask questions, report product issues, or yes, even compliment them on products or services. 

Companies are often perceived as being lifeless and lacking in personality. By offering thoughts and perspectives or standing for an issue, organizations are establishing common ground with their customers, as well as sparking useful debate, building trust and inviting customers to stand with them.

Instead of signing emails generically from the customer service department, savvy businesses are striving to make all customer interactions sincere, meaningful, and memorable. Simple notions such as making sure all correspondences are signed by a human being or followed up with a phone call after a couple of days are the perfect touch.

What trends do you foresee as they relate to customer service and AI?
Reisinger: Companies spend billions of dollars each year on technology to help improve customer experience, retention, and loyalty. I think we’ll begin to see organizations realize that technology should be used to support positive experiences–not run the customer experience. Businesses must learn to strike a balance, particularly as they explore new customer channels like voice interface and virtual personal assistants.

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