AI-Powered Customer Service: What to Watch for in 2022

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Imagine, if you will: a world in which you’re never stuck on hold, waiting for a customer service representative (CSR) to work through their call waiting queue to get to you. Instead, all of your questions are answered, and all of your problems are resolved promptly and comprehensively through a combination of self-service and artificially intelligent chatbots.

Though this hypothetical scenario isn’t a reality just yet, it isn’t as far off as you might think. In recent years, there’s been significant uptake of artificial intelligence (AI) across different industries and verticals. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2022, organizations will have an average of 35 AI projects in place — a major increase from an average of just four as recently as 2019.

A significant portion of that AI investment will be dedicated to customer service: By 2022, 70% of customer interactions will involve emerging technologies, such as machine learning applications, and mobile messaging, up 15% from 2018.

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There can be little doubt that AI is the next frontier of customer service and will become a crucial competitive differentiator in the years to come. In this article, we’ll look at some of the top AI customer service trends for 2022 and beyond.

Benefits of AI in Customer Service

There’s no shortage of benefits to deploying AI in your organization’s customer service department. Here are just a few of the advantages AI-powered customer service has to offer:

  • Rapid Response Times: Rather than sit around waiting for a CSR to answer the phone or respond to their email, AI-enabled chatbots and virtual agents are always available and can respond to customer inquiries in a matter of minutes — sometimes even seconds. It’s important to note that, at this stage in the game, chatbots and virtual agents are better suited for lower-level inquiries and requests. That said, thanks to natural language processing (NLP) and other forms of machine learning, AI customer service technology is rapidly evolving every day.
  • Better Resource Management: By tasking chatbots and virtual agents with lower-level inquires and requests, organizations enable CSRs and live agents to focus on more pressing issues that require skilled human intervention. Best of all, it’s possible to program chatbots and virtual agents to automatically escalate issues based on certain criteria, allowing for a more efficient customer service process.
  • Lower Overall Costs: Call centers field hundreds — even thousands — of calls each day, many of which require follow-up conversations. Multiply that by 365 days per year, and it’s easy to see just how quickly call volumes can add up. The average CSR can handle approximately 40–50 calls per eight-to-nine-hour shift, but as call volumes increase, CSRs face mounting pressure to increase their workload. This pressure can easily lead to burnout and high rates of employee turnover, which is as unpleasant for agents at it is expensive for employers. By channeling a percentage of incoming requests to AI-enabled chatbots and virtual agents, organizations can create a healthy work environment that better supports CSRs, enhance customer service, and reduce wait times across the board, all of which can help them reduce operating costs. 
  • More Personalized Interactions: AI-enabled customer support systems have the ability to integrate with back-end systems, such as your company’s customer relationship management system, to highlight relevant data. Surfacing this data makes it easier for agents to tailor their responses to the particular customer, as well as offer personalized recommendations. 
  • Issue Prioritization: Certain AI customer service solutions can leverage sentiment analysis — a form of AI that uses NLP to determine whether a block of text is positive, negative, or neutral — to detect when customers are frustrated and automatically escalate issues to CSRs and live agents. Agents can prioritize open tickets accordingly, addressing dissatisfied customers first, thereby reducing their risk of churning. 
  • Proactive Service: Machine learning — a subset of AI — enables chatbots and virtual agents to recognize when customers are stuck on a particular webpage, prompting them to proactively ask customers whether they’re in need of assistance. AI-powered customer service is also incredibly valuable for onboarding: Chatbots can interact with new customers, offering detailed instructions on how to use products and providing tips on how to get the greatest value out of their investment.
  • Round-the-Clock Availability: Organizations are under increasing pressure to offer customer service at a rapid rate. According to a survey from HubSpot, 90% of customers expect an immediate response — that is, within 10 minutes or less — to customer support issues. Organizations can both meet rising customer expectations and save themselves the financial investment of staffing 24/7 call or contact centers by leveraging chatbots and virtual agents to handle incoming requests outside of regular business hours.
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  • Effective Communication: Businesses can deploy AI-powered speech recognition tools to analyze the content and tone of customer service call recordings. Voice analytics not only provide valuable insight into the customer’s frame of mind during service-oriented conversations — they also enable live agents to identify opportunities for improvement in future interactions.
  • Brand Protection: Organizations can apply sentiment analysis to social media posts, customer feedback, and product reviews. Sentiment analysis enables companies to recognize and quickly resolve any issues that could potentially damage their brand.
  • Optimized Training: In addition to supporting issue prioritization and brand protection, companies can also leverage sentiment analysis to identify training needs. For example, if a company routinely received negative feedback related to a specific issue, it might develop new training materials dedicated to resolving that issue.
  • Behavioral Insights: The more data your organization collects, the more opportunities you have for AI-driven insights. It’s possible to use AI-enabled technology to identify trends and habits based on customer behavior and leverage them to make more intelligent and informed customer service decisions.

What does all of this translate to? Improved time to resolution, increased customer satisfaction, and a better overall customer experience.

With AI well on its way to becoming a cornerstone of customer service for organizations around the world, here are some exciting AI-powered customer service trends to get an early jump on:

  1. Chatbots Become More Advanced Recent advancements in technology have made it so that most chatbots and virtual assistants are able to pass the Turing test. Conversational AI, in particular, combines machine learning and NLP to help machines understand the nuances of, and even naturalistically replicate, human language. By enabling chatbots to recognize intent, develop contextual awareness, and respond in kind, AI has made it possible for brands to deliver a more consistent customer support experience across all channels, regardless whether the customer is talking to a live agent or a virtual one.

    Interactive Voice Response, or IVR, is another great example of the advancements in chatbot technology. According to TechTarget, IVR is “an automated telephony systems that interacts with callers, gathers information and routes calls to the appropriate recipients.” It’s possible to use chatbots to enhance your IVR system — for example, Microsoft uses Power Virtual Agents to build out its IVR system for First Party Voice, so that customers have the same experience over the phone as they would over chat. Much like a chatbot, if the IVR system is unable to resolve an inquiry, it automatically hands the case over to a live support agent. 
  2. New Applications for Chatbots Arise As chatbots and virtual agents evolve and become increasingly more sophisticated, organizations are discovering new ways to deploy them beyond one-off, transactional support interactions.

    For an example of this, look no further than Capital One’s Eno. An AI-powered virtual assistant, Eno is designed to not only answer customers’ questions, but also to track their spending and offer personalized recommendations to help them make smarter financial decisions. Eno also provides real-time account monitoring for all of Capital One’s customers and automatically alerts them any time it detects suspicious and potentially fraudulent activity. Capital One’s approach to AI transcends standard customer service, instead identifying new opportunities to deliver value for the customer and enhance the overall customer experience. 
  3. AI Takes Marketing to the Next Level One of the biggest emerging use cases for AI in customer service is AI-enhanced marketing. Data integration powered by AI is slated to become a huge opportunity for marketing teams everywhere, enabling them to consolidate data from multiple different marketing platforms and apply prescriptive analytics to that data in order to generate targeted recommendations.

    The insights gleaned from this process will not only empower marketers to develop customized campaigns that speak to customers’ unique interests and specific pain points, but also monitor the success of those campaign in real time across multiple channels and iterate upon them using machine learning and marketing intelligence. 
  4. Businesses Create Connected Customer Journeys
    For customers, there are few things more frustrating than having to repeat themselves every time they speak to a new person on a business’s customer service team. This is especially prone to happen when a customer engages with a business across multiple different channels.

    Organizations can save customers time, effort, and frustration by using an AI-powered customer service solution to field customers’ initial inquiries and then directing them to the appropriate agent for additional support. Such solutions also forward all pertinent information about the issue at hand — automatically captured and documented during the customer’s initial conversation with a chatbot or virtual agent — to the live agent. Not only does this save the customer from having to reexplain their issue or restate their question to the live agent, it also creates a sort of audit trail that businesses can use to improve upon their existing service and support processes and structure. And that’s not all AI can do: Thanks to recent advancements, AI-enabled systems can even detect when customer inquiries have gone unanswered and prioritize them accordingly. For example, let’s say that a customer were to reach out to a brand on social media about an issue they were experiencing and never receive a response. Now, let’s say that same customer called that company’s customer service line regarding the same issue at a later date. The company’s AI customer service solution would recognize that customer, flag them, and move them to the front of the line for assistance. By using AI to make customer service more convenient and leaving no stone unturned, businesses can create truly connected omnichannel customer journeys.
  5. Human Touch Remains Essential As advanced as AI may be, it isn’t without its limitations. Fortunately, NLP and machine learning have enabled chatbots and virtual assistants to recognize when human intervention is needed and will escalate accordingly. 

The truth is AI-enabled systems are unlikely to ever fully replace live support. Instead, live agents and virtual ones will have a sort of symbiotic relationship: Virtual agents will automate many manual tasks and resolve lower-level issues, enabling live agents to focus on higher priority and more complex issues. In turn, live agents will play an integral role in helping make AI customer service solutions more sophisticated by providing examples of successful case resolutions. These examples will serve as the foundation for machine learning modules, which virtual agents will use to better understand how to engage with customers in an organic, efficient way. 

Real-World Examples of AI-Powered Customer Service

We’ve already talked about Capital One Eno — here are some other examples of how businesses are finding innovative ways to optimize customer service and the overall customer experience with AI:

Delta Air Lines

In 2018, Delta Air Lines partnered with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to develop a first-of-its-kind biometrics boarding program, available to customers traveling direct to an international destination out of certain U.S. airports.

The way it works is this:

  1. Delta sends a customer manifest for each flight to CBP, which then creates a photo gallery based on that manifest.
  2. Customers who opt into the program have their photo taken at an airport touchpoint, at which point that encrypted, de-identified photo is sent via a secure CBP channel to verify them against the flight manifest gallery.
  3. Once CBP has verified the customer’s identity, it sends verification back to Delta, along with an indicator to proceed with boarding.
  4. CBP updates its records of who has departed the country, and customers are free to travel to their final destination.

According to third-party customer insight research, 70% of customers found the curb-to-gate facial recognition experience appealing, and 72% reported that they prefer facial recognition to standard boarding. The program has been so successful, in fact, that Delta has expanded it to airports in eight major U.S. cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston.

Domino’s Pizza

Domino’s Dom is not your average chatbot. This voice-controlled pizza ordering assistant not only answers frequently asked questions, it also streamlines the ordering experience by memorizing customers’ previous orders and uses data integration to provide accurate delivery estimates. Best of all, Dom monitors the status of each pizza as it’s being made and when it’s sent out delivery, providing customers with real-time updates so that they’re never stuck wondering when their order will arrive.

The Muse

The Muse — a popular employment and recruiting site amongst Millennials — took its marketing strategy to the next level by partnering with Blueshift, a CDP+ marketing automation platform provider. Together, the two companies use predictive analytics and AI algorithms to create hyper-personalized email campaigns based on user actions and attributes. These complex, multi-triggered campaigns targeted different user interactions across multiple sections of The Muse’s site and across its catalogs, generating a 200% increase in visits to targeted pages.

Walgreens Boots Alliance
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) — a major global pharmacy and healthcare retail provider — knew that it needed to find a way to be more responsive to customer’s needs. This led WBA to partner with Microsoft to develop and deploy AI-powered customer service chatbots across its websites, including Walgreens.com and Boots.com.

Although many of these bots are designed to answer common questions, help customers find the right products, and handle prescription-related matters, the real standout is the COVID-19 Risk Assessment bot, which was added to the Find Care section of the Walgreens website. This bot, in particular, uses a chat interface to help customers determine their risk of having COVID-19 based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The bot, which has been used by thousands of Walgreens customers since it was implemented, has both lowered customers’ risk of COVID-19 exposure and reduced the strain on an already overburdened health system — two massive successes, by anyone’s standards.

Power Your Customer Service with Hitachi Solutions

Access the most advanced technology and revolutionize your business’s customer service program with help from Hitachi Solutions. Our Digital Compass initiative provides an easy-to-follow playbook for digital transformation, one that will enable your business to innovate quickly and take advantage of the latest and greatest tech offerings — including AI. We even offer two specialized solution tracks — Operations and Productivity — that will make your customer service strategy the envy of organizations everywhere.

Contact us today to discover out how Hitachi Solutions can help you capitalize on the latest AI trends and compete to win on customer service.