Real-Time Customer Service Will Soon Be the Rule


Businesses are ramping up their use of virtual assistants – or “conversational user interfaces” — for customer interactions.

I just heard that Gartner is now predicting that by 2020, many of us will be interacting with AI-powered customer assistants than we do with our spouses. While this may be a disturbing prospect for many, it leaves no doubt that organizations are now engaged in an arms race in adopting artificial intelligence to interact with massive numbers of customers.

Businesses are ramping up their use of virtual assistants – or “conversational user interfaces” — for customer interactions, adding capabilities for increasingly sophisticated questions. Josiah Motley, writing in The Next Web, also observes that while Gartner’s estimate puts the degree of AI-driven customer chats at 85% within three years, this doesn’t consider the range of behind-the-scenes jobs. So real-time AI-driven engagements may even be more pervasive than that simple chatbot discussion you may have when ordering new office supplies.

Anton Ovchinnikov, a data scientist, notes that in retail settings, virtual assistants help “automate responses to customer service inquiries; provide shopping assistance and product recommendations; and find out what questions customers have before and after they buy, and help address them.”

In his report, Motley channels the views of Diego Ventura, who sees opportunities in AI-driven interactions – not just for organizations, but also in terms of new career options. As he put it, he sees “virtual assistants as a way to primarily improve the customer experience and, two, augmenting the capabilities of existing employees – rather than simply taking their jobs. Virtual assistants help users find information more easily. Virtual assistants are also used at the call center to help agents be more successful in answering questions, therefore augmenting their capabilities.”

This point was recently driven home in a recent Harvard Business Review article by Brad Power, who explored some case studies of AI-driven customer service in action. RapidMiner, a company that provides an analytical tool for data scientists, was trying to figure out a way to respond to the requests of about 60,000 users coming to their website every month for free trials of their solution. The challenge for the company was to help these prospects without breaking the bank.

The solution, as explained by RapidMiner CMO Tom Wentworth in the article, was a chat tool “which would ask a visitor initiating a chat, ‘What brought you to RapidMiner today?’” The bot would then provide one of seven potential follow-up responses to the prospect’s answer. “For example, a visitor might say, ‘I need help,’” and the bot would “send him or her to the support section of the website.” The bot now “conducts about a thousand chats per month,” Power continues. “It resolves about two-thirds of customer inquiries; those that it cannot, it routes to humans.” In addition, the bot is generating qualified sales leads as a result of its interactions.


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About Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is RTInsights Industry Editor and industry analyst focusing on artificial intelligence, digital, cloud and Big Data topics. His work also appears in Forbes an Harvard Business Review. Over the last three years, he served as co-chair for the AI Summit in New York, as well as on the organizing committee for IEEE's International Conferences on Edge Computing. (full bio). Follow him on Twitter @joemckendrick.

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