Search stole the customer experience; AI is your chance to get it back

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When search emerged as the dominate gateway to Web interaction at the turn of the century, it likewise transformed customer service, and not necessarily in a good way. It gave rise to the rapid acceleration of expectations and acceptance of self-help, with customers seeking answers to their problems on the Web, but it also took that channel away from the companies themselves. Companies could provide all the customer hotline call numbers they wanted, but their customers’ first reaction became turning to the Web for help.

It’s safe to say that Google won the market, and for companies that fact meant that their customers’ first touchpoint for service was often through a Google search. At best, the answer from your company’s site was a top result, but the experience became impacted and mediated by forums, FAQs, and other customer queries. Achieving control of your ideal customer experience became an SEO game.

Those expectations are again in flux. In fact, major search companies are investing aggressively in “answer” solutions, recognizing that in the new post-search era consumers expect to be able to find the best and most relevant answer in specific terms, not just a list of links potentially that lead to an answer.

As customers begin to expect more proactive support, and more personalized and relevant self-service solutions, there is an opportunity for companies to regain control of that initial touchpoint of customer experience ceded to search for the past decade. These new experiences will be powered by the enterprise artificial intelligence (AI) stack, which will inform not only how customers interact with your company, but how your company understands and utilizes customer as part of an overall experience.

In short, AI is the new search.

With the focus of the enterprise on the customer journey this year, the decisions made now about how to integrate AI will have an important impact on companies for years to come, and it’s important for them to fully understand what is at stake, and to get it right.

The new customer experience

Your customer service experience not only needs to consider the touchpoints with customers, but how customer information is integrated effectively into those touchpoints. Customer service is no longer about simply troubleshooting or time-to-resolution stats – it’s about building a fuller experience across multiple channels.

This new reality is both a concern and an opportunity for enterprises. Companies need to think no only about how their customers will interact with their brand, but also how to strategically deploy AI to protect their unique customer experience.

On one hand, major players like Google, IBM, Apple and Microsoft, are developing general purpose platforms like Siri to help consumers manage the important details, interactions, activities and events of their daily lives. The evolution of these platforms and offerings is resulting in increased consumer awareness, acceptance, and expectations of the promise of AI At the other end of the spectrum, a number of startups are developing point solutions to address the automation of very specific consumer tasks or needs.

The enterprise that doesn’t have a plan risks turning its customer experience over to a general-purpose provider. There’s the potential for enterprises to lose the opportunity to influence customer satisfaction, loyalty, and even purchase or engagement decisions.

Alternatively, they can piece together their AI stack strategically, but this requires a deft understanding of how AI should operate and interact between companies and customers. In the worst cases, they are leaving these interactions in the hands of design firms that may focus on surface-level engagement without the important deeper data integration.

AI and the customer journey

The new customer service experience is less about troubleshooting than thinking of the customer journey more holistically, both internally and externally for the enterprise. As companies think about how their customers will interact with them and find information in the future (such as with rapidly expanding Internet of Things movement), they must consider customer service to be proactive, easily accessible, and built upon the desires for self-service.

Data will drive this new experience, whether it manifests itself in virtual personal assistants (VPAs), web content or even the devices themselves. We can easily imagine a customer experience where their device recognizes a problem and proactively alerts the user, provides links or contact for support and feeds that data back to the company for a complete feedback loop.

The new AI and data-driven customer experience gives enterprises the opportunity to regain control of the experience that was ceded to search or to repeat the same mistake. As enterprises re-evaluate how to develop their full circle experience within the focus on the customer journey, they need to think strategically about how that experience integrates with the entire data structure of their organization, and is maintained and deployed by their AI stack. Without AI-leveraged intelligence to organize and orchestrate the new customer experience, the enterprise risks their customer journey quickly running off the rails.

About the Author 

rick-collinsRick Collins is the President for Enterprise Business at Next IT Corp., creators of the Alme virtual assistant platform. He was previously Director of Business Development at Microsoft.