Last year saw hybrid workforces—a blend of humans and artificial intelligence—grow in popularity, especially within certain areas of business like investment banking and fraud prevention. “A mixed workforce comprising people and robotics is not a science fiction movie, but an evolving reality,” wrote Lisa Barry and Jon Stone for KPMG, a professional services firm based in Australia.
This evolution is reshaping roles, accountability structures, and key performance indicators as virtual assistants become the new workplace colleague, augmenting human intelligence. A hybrid set-up unlocks a range of benefits that include speeding up decision-making processes and enabling companies to administer a high volume of personalized marketing campaigns.
As indicated in CX Networks 2019 Predictions Report, the future of proactive customer relationship management lies in empowering a hybrid workforce that blends machines, cognitive systems, and humans (whether full-time or temporary).
The beauty of AI in customer engagement strategies
Similar to KPMG’s Jon Stone, Claire Sporton, SVP of customer experience innovation at Confirmit, said: “I prefer to think of AI as ‘Augmented Intelligence’ because that’s effectively what it means for us. AI can augment the human, giving us better information, greater insight and the ability to perform our roles better.”
Once a company has located where to implement AI, it can be used within a workforce to bear the heavy load of handling mundane cases. By handling simple tasks, the technology frees agents for more complex tasks and erases specific points of friction in the customer journey. Michael Wolczyk, head of online processes at Commerzbank, said: “For instance, if your customers desire a 24/7 service, you may want to consider using AI to interact and hold simple conversations with clients. Why is AI a good tool for this? Well, if you want to achieve timely service, sometimes you can’t scale your call centre as much as you would like to. So this is where technology can step in and help you with basic conversations with clients.”
[Read also: On being the human behind the chat widget]
Self-service is quickly becoming the norm for consumers and can drastically increase operational efficiencies, especially for telecoms firms. This channel relieves some internal pressure as customer service often sits as a massive cost for telecoms, especially those supporting large customer bases.
Self-service is quickly becoming the norm for consumers and can drastically increase operational efficiencies, especially for telecoms firms.
Real-time customer relationship management
Beyond taking care of more straightforward tasks, AI can handle sophisticated activities that empower agents to take control of the future.
Descriptive analytics builds a picture of what’s happened in the past during certain customer interactions. This intel provides a springboard for predictive and prescriptive analytics, where algorithms use these observations to experiment and forecast outcomes that occur in response to different stimuli. This information is then applied to assist with future interactions.
Machine learning algorithms, such as text and voice analytics, can be used to flag customers who are going to turn into detractors, so agents can intervene and prevent the customer from churning. Brands have managed to greatly reduce customer churn rates using these techniques to mine the voice of the customer.
Does your infrastructure support a hybrid workforce?
Staff members (machine or human), can only provide an excellent experience if they know what customers want and when they want to engage with your brand. Businesses that want to provide best-in-class experiences will be able to forecast what customers will need in the near future.
Unfortunately, many service providers struggle to extract insights from data and respond quickly enough to meet customer needs. Some companies stumble when they attempt to identify the same customer across multiple lines of business, generally because customer data resides in several siloed systems. This leads to a conflicted customer view that unravels into needlessly inefficient processes that incur high costs.
These disjointed processes can damage customer relationships. If a brand fails to recognize that a customer is simultaneously subscribed to various products, it’s at risk of sending communications that are anything but targeted. For instance, sending a customer an enticing offer for a product they already own.
A truly unified view of customer data is integral to unleashing the power of artificial intelligence, or more specifically, machine learning. Customer-centricity is driven by having a 360-degree single view of the customer by connecting diverse data sources.
Having a unified view of the customer provides you with a more intimate understanding of customers—from the services to which they’re subscribed to past behaviors and real-time preferences. This rich insight can be leveraged to proactively engage with customers’ needs in real-time.
A truly unified view of customer data is integral to unleashing the power of artificial intelligence...Customer-centricity is driven by having a 360-degree single view of the customer by connecting diverse data sources.
The voice of the customer can (and should) also be used to train bot assistants. Half the effort that goes into implementing a voice or chat bot should be spent on understanding the company’s users and their expectations for agents. Bots should develop responses by learning from your most skilled agents. Voice assistants can be so realistic phonetically, semantically, and in speed that customers can mistake them for humans.
Finding the right balance
In the buzz of all this tech, businesses shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of humans. In a recent interview with CX Network, customer experience influencer Shep Hyken noted, “At the end of the day, all of the technology we have will never make up for the relationship that a customer has with a company through a human to human interaction, because at some point they’re going to need that support, they’re going to need that help.”
Organizations should ensure they don’t lose the human touch when automating processes and implementing artificial intelligence. In addition to this, humans are required to train but also track the performance of their bot colleagues to minimize mistakes such as miss-selling, and ensure that bots adhere to relevant privacy and other regulations.
Humans are the ones that ultimately make the executive decisions when it comes to the information presented by bots, by choosing what to use and what to ignore.
Advocating for emotion across the workforce The quest to delight customers has focused many brands’ attention on one very human factor: emotions. More specifically, digging into the relationship between emotions and brand loyalty, as Walmart did when it launched packaging that recognized women-owned businesses, back in 2015. Some experts believe that emotional connections are the most persuasive factors when it comes to consumer buying decisions.
Studies have shown that how something is communicated is greatly influential to the success of an interaction. Authenticity sells, and it is incredibly complex to teach a bot to respond and adapt to the infinite pragmatics of human interactions. In an era where customers thirst for more personalization and psychological engagement, there's no question that humans are crucial to the process.
Authenticity sells, and it is incredibly complex to teach a bot to respond and adapt to the infinite pragmatics of human interactions.
Industry commentators have predicted that women in CX management will be especially influential for this particular area of CX growth. In CX Network’s report exploring customer experience trends to watch in 2019, Suzy Nixon, a customer experience manager at Bupa Australia & New Zealand—and a member of our 30 under 30 panel—forecasted that “ ….we will continue to see more female executives as the importance of ‘emotion’ in both the customer and people experience continues to rise. Typically, women are more vocal about emotions and more likely to bring this to the surface.”
[Read also: How augmented reality could change customer service]
Finally, a little help from our contractor friends
Last but not least, contractors are an important asset within organizational hybrid models. According to author Alexandra Levit, in her article for Forbes, the employment of contract workers has been surging over the last decade, with no signs of slowing. These temporary workers bring a fresh perspective and skill set for a finite amount of time, boosting productivity during seasonal surges or in accordance with scheduled projects. In other words, contractors are important to help fuel growth and bridge gaps, and can be valuable especially during moments of transition, when your full-time agents are invested in automating processes and training bots.
Chanice Henry graduated with a BA in Journalism before diving into the world of B2B editorial, focused on property finance. She spent three years as Editor of Pharma IQ and Pharma Logistics IQ, leading the direction of the portals to inspire professionals working to treat the world’s patients. Now as Editor-in-Chief of the CX Network, she continues to produce a range of premium-level content, now for senior customer experience, service, insight, digital and marketing leaders.
Interested in more content like this? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.