According to Zendesk's CX Trends 2023 report, nearly two-thirds of business leaders say their investments in customer-service AI have generated significant performance improvements. Organizations considering using AI for business may find these statistics encouraging but may not know where to start when it comes to this technology. The answer lies in adopting a gentle approach to AI, beginning with straightforward initiatives before taking on more advanced endeavors. These three steps can help guide the way to a successful AI implementation in your business.
1. Know your customers and channels
Having grown comfortable with omnichannel conversations in their personal lives, customers now expect businesses to provide a similarly convenient and responsive conversational experience. At a minimum, it must be personalized with their specific needs in mind. It should also take the form of a two-way interaction, including convenient self-service tools and the option to talk to a human when appropriate. Crucially, this experience must take place in real time on their preferred communication channels. To deliver on all of these expectations, brands must first know who their customers are, what they need, and which channels they most often use.
Customer preferences may vary significantly depending on factors such as the customer's age, gender identity, and region. These preferences may also be in a state of transition, with changes anticipated in the near future. For example, as the 11th edition of the Vonage Global Customer Engagement Report notes, customers in North America plan to increase their SMS use this year more than most other regions, but they plan to use messaging and voice apps comparatively less. Meanwhile, customers in Latin America currently show a marked preference for WhatsApp. Customers under 40 especially favor social media for engaging businesses, with women preferring Messenger and men inclined toward WhatsApp.
Businesses can begin paving the way for a successful AI implementation by digging into benchmark data on customer engagement trends that shed light on what customers expect from a good CX and how they plan to use communication channels in the near future. Companies are often also sitting on a gold mine of first-party customer data, which can shed even more light on what their existing customers need and want. AI for business can help during this initial phase by rapidly analyzing historical data and surfacing findings that will prove valuable when it comes time to implement specific workflows.
2. Use automated workflows to engage customers
Once a business understands who its customers are and the CX they're asking for, it can begin designing automated customer engagement workflows to match. The prospect of figuring out how to implement AI might seem daunting, however, particularly to a company that hasn't yet used AI to enhance its customer-facing business processes. Sixty-two percent of the business leaders who responded to the Zendesk survey say their companies have been lagging behind in the use of AI, and 60% of them describe their organizations' plans as ad-hoc rather than strategic. This state of affairs may be partly because they haven't yet found the approach or tools they need.
That said, business leaders can take heart. A business doesn't require prior experience with AI or advanced coding skills to ensure a successful AI implementation. In fact, it can now accomplish this step in a variety of ways, depending on its skill set, organizational capacity, budget, and specific needs. Although a company that has developers on staff can benefit from their valuable technical acumen during this phase, an advanced conversational AI platform with low-code or no-code capabilities can empower nontechnical employees to create their own conversation flows using easy drag-and-drop features. A business can also have its semi-technical users take the lead on automating straightforward conversations, engaging professional services for assistance with implementing particularly complex use cases.
Sometimes a company doesn't have the internal capacity to take on an AI project, even if it considers that project a strategic priority. For example, the business may already be juggling multiple digital transformation initiatives, or it may not have the staff it needs to carry out the necessary work. In such cases, a company can go the fully managed route, having business decision-makers advise their conversational AI partner on what the business seeks to accomplish and then trusting the partner to design, develop, and maintain the entire solution.
These flexible options allow businesses to confidently deploy AI in the most appropriate way for their requirements, ultimately allowing them to satisfy customer expectations for a great CX and keep pace with the competition. Here are a few ways companies can use automated flows to engage their customers more effectively, at scale, throughout the year — including during peak periods when demand is especially high.
Examples of automated workflows in action
Businesses are already using AI to automate workflows to scale the customer experience and accelerate their customer response, earning accolades from customers while reducing costs. Here are just two examples of successful outcomes these AI adopters have achieved.
Scale the customer experience
Ronlight, which distributes Garmin products in Israel, tapped AI to accelerate its customer response. By automating its contact centers with an AI-powered voice agent named Ron, the company was able to successfully answer 70% of incoming calls from its growing customer base without any human assistance. The average call duration dropped by 2.5 minutes to less than one minute, and Ronlight customers can now enjoy immediate access to customer support on a 24/7 basis. Not only did the company receive positive feedback from its customers, but it also achieved measurable cost savings as part of the AI enhancement.
Companies considering making similar improvements also have an opportunity to satisfy their customers' preferences. As the Vonage Global Customer Engagement Report found, 62% of customers say they consider the ability to easily reach live customer service a "must have," while 34% see it as a "nice to have." When asked how they feel about the option to access 24/7 customer service, 48% of customers view it as a "must have" and 46% think of it as a "nice to have."
Accelerate customer response
Businesses can also use AI to automate multiple call processes. Virtual agents can take over some of the call volume from human agents in order to reduce call hold times and ensure customers have faster access to the help they need.
Businesses that pursue these enhancements will find that their customers appreciate the improvements in service they make possible. In fact, they might be surprised how open customers are to engaging with a virtual agent as opposed to a human one. When surveyed about the ability to use virtual agents for faster problem resolution than waiting to speak to a live person, 36% of respondents characterize it as a "must have" and 50% consider it a "nice to have."
3. Implement AI models for greater impact
Once a company has begun using AI to accelerate some of its customer-facing workflows, it can leverage the technology in even more impactful ways. For example, a business can tap AI capabilities to accelerate digital transformation, provide smoother omnichannel interactions, and shift toward a conversational engagement model that meets customers' preferences for a flexible digital experience.
Accelerate digital transformations
Interaktive, a Mexico-based digital marketing agency, taps low-code and no-code AI programming tools to create bots that manage the company's WhatsApp groups, using a visual development approach instead of the traditional practice that would have required thousands of lines of code. Rather than having to conduct a lengthy and time-consuming onboarding process in order to learn how to accomplish this task, the Interaktive team was able to simply consult the documentation that was already available, experimenting on their own and then scaling up the conversation design when they were ready. The entire process, from starting the project to building the first bot, only took two weeks. Interaktive was also able to integrate third-party applications and small bits of code as needed. The company has now created multiple bots that interact with databases from various systems via webhooks that Interaktive has built, making it possible to send, complement, and receive the information that is needed to improve the customer experience on behalf of their clients.
Enable smoother omnichannel interactions
AI can also help companies ensure meaningful two-way conversations across all of their customers' preferred channels. By delivering natural conversation flow across those channels, businesses can avoid the stilted experiences customers sometimes encounter when switching from one channel to another. For example, 54% of customers express frustration that they're required to provide personal information multiple times in one session, and 54% of them become annoyed when an agent doesn't know the history or background behind a recurring issue they've been having. AI can extract data from a company's customer relationship management platform to ensure verification and provide a customer's history. Agents then have all the context they need to pick up the conversation where it left off instead of starting over from scratch.
Set up conversational engagement
Customers are clear about their desire to have conversational relationships with businesses. After all, they're already using digital channels to fluidly engage with friends, family, and colleagues on their own terms — and they don't see why interactions with brands should be any different. Three-fifths of customers are "very satisfied" with friends and family communication, but not even half of them feel the same way about business communication.
Businesses can use conversational AI to support two-way messaging, engaging customers in the moment in the channel of their choice. Customers can then keep the conversation going in the way they find most convenient, just as they would when communicating with people in their personal lives.
Evolve your customer experience with AI
Customers have high expectations for the companies they do business with, and AI can make it possible to meet those expectations. However, businesses that haven't explored AI may be unsure how to get started with a technology that's rapidly reshaping many areas of the economy and public life. Fortunately, businesses can begin their AI journeys with small steps, becoming gradually more familiar and proficient with the technology before advancing to more sophisticated implementations.
That said, it's best to begin this journey sooner rather than later. AI continually learns from the interactions it has, so companies that start early will reap the greatest rewards in a shorter time frame. Companies that take steps to implement an AI-driven strategy now will get a head start on accelerating their customer service, improving their customer engagement and creating the CX that keeps customers happy.