If Elon Musk is right, and we should hope artificial intelligence is kind to us, business needs to make nice soon. That was the top message of the recent Forrester Customer Experience Forum, CXNYC 2017.
Users are demanding more from their experiences, said speakers. They want ever faster responses to their demands, faster resolutions to problems, and are increasingly expecting vendors to anticipate their needs 24/7. This requires the use of technologies that can model and predict behavior and react faster than humans can, said the experts.
“Customer experience will be truly transformed by AI,” said Edwin Van Bommel, chief cognitive officer of IPSoft. “AI is at the core of the customer experience transformation, replacing a fragmented interface between clients, vendors and employees with a single one,” he said.
Companies are making massive investments in technology, but they’re finding that is not enough to improve their customer satisfaction, said Julio Hernandez, head of the Global Customer Center of Excellence at KPMG. He noted a recent KPMG study found that while investment in customer experience has doubled since 2012, customer satisfaction has remained flat. Technology is raising expectations that businesses are not fulfilling, he explained.
“It’s about looking at the enterprise and asking; Where are we failing to cash that check with the customer?” he said.
In the many panels and keynotes, the speakers at CXNYC made a few points that would serve to guide businesses facing this latest disruption:
AI is not what you think: We haven’t reached Terminator 2 status yet, said speakers; “pure AI” that can mimic human intelligence or solve problems is not available yet.
“We’re still not close to pure AI. That’s sci-fi,” said Mike Gualtieri, Forrester principal analyst. What companies can do now is “pragmatic AI” which involves several varieties of machine learning, speech, and image analysis. Most of what’s available now are variations of machine learning systems, which improve their responses with the increased inputs — the more data they receive, the better they get at predictive analytics and the better experience they can enable.
Data scientists can build models and computer scientists write algorithms to analyze data based on those models, but coders don’t know how to create customer experiences, said Gualtieri. That’s where the experience professionals step in.
“Become a detective for trigger opportunities in your customer service,” said Joanna van den Brink-Quintanilla, Principal analyst at Forrester. “Rethink where the journey begins and ends.”
Right now, AI is being used to make experiences better, said Julie Ask, VP and principal analyst at Forrester.
“It’s an enhancement and augmentation,” she said. “It’s not a replacement.”
But AI is coming fast: “Do you remember when revolutionary advances like two-day shipping… were a way to set yourself apart from your competitors?” asked Angela Wells, CX senior director at Oracle. Now, online shoppers expect merchants to anticipate when they have to restock on a product. The margin of victory is getting slimmer, said Wells: “There are such higher expectations of customers.”
Now, with the technologies available, smaller organizations can leverage AI and other tools to fine-tune personalization and optimization of user experiences based on attributes such as customer lifetime value, said Steve Bernstein, senior VP of digital solutions at Epsilon. Only elite organizations used to have access to that technology and the ability to scale it to their needs, he said: “Before, it used to take an army.”
Consumers are leading the way by adopting technologies such as digital assistants including Siri and Alexa. According to Forrester, 19 percent of adult smartphone users online use a voice assistant at least weekly, noted Katie McMahon, VP and general manager of tech company SoundHound.
“The bottom line is, when you look at the future… Will we still be doing basic queries?” she said. “We’re going to have these conversations and the technology around us is going to get it.”
And we’d better get ready: “You need a CEO who gets it, “ said Forrester CEO George Colony. It may be a reach for some of you, but you have to teach your CEO.”
In fact, buy-in — from both management and staff — may be the biggest hurdle to making this digital disruption work out, said speakers. Investments in customer experience don’t come cheap and they require upending many existing processes, so an executive championing new technologies needs to make a strong case that the improved customer experience will produce significant ROI. Modeling based on existing data and small experiments to demonstrate potential are the best way to convince skeptical audiences, said speakers.
Choosing new technology required “a lot of guts and a little experience,” said John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer at Carnival Cruise Lines. He likened a cruise ship to “a ten-ton mobile device that goes around the world,” so the cruise company created an operating system that would link the on-board passenger experience, he explained.
An effort like that requires buy-in from the very top of the company, Padgett explained. Once senior management engages in the vision “it can’t be unseen,” he said.
User experience is the one area where businesses need to focus in the near future, if they are to survive. And that means taking their cue from wherever or whomever it comes, said speakers. Kelley Kurtzman, VP of global sales and service center at Verizon, said the telecom uses insights derived from data to show staff how consumers use their services, so they can then drive better engagement.
Companies need to learn to exploit “emergent behavior” that grows organically, based on how individuals choose to act, similarly to how pedestrians walking will wear a path where there is no sidewalk, explained Rick Parrish, principal analyst at Forrester. Breakaway customer experience often comes from such “rogue hacks” by employees who go around the established systems and work around procedure to streamline the way they serve clients.
Rather than force them to stick to the rules, find out why they do it and perhaps try adopting it, Parrish recommended: “Put the sidewalk where people are walking.”