In today's fast-paced and digitally-driven world, AI-powered customer experience (CX) solutions have emerged as crucial tools for businesses aiming to deliver exceptional experiences to their loyal customers. By leveraging AI-powered CX solutions, organizations can build stronger customer relationships, improve satisfaction levels, and gain a competitive edge in the market. The businesses can greatly benefit from adopting AI solutions built on a large customer experience (CX)-specific data set. Zendesk is making it easy for companies with help of its innovative customer experience solution. Rajeev Ranjan, Editor, Digital Terminal recently spoke to Vasudeva Rao Munnaluri, RVP India & SAARC, Zendesk. He shared crucial insights about their offering, AI-based solutions, challenges and much more. Read below the excerpts:
Rajeev: What are the key factors that businesses should consider before investing in AI-powered CX solutions?
Vasudeva: As businesses consider implementing AI in their CX functions, it’s important to not get caught up in the hype of emerging technologies but be more thoughtful in its application. Though the benefits of AI are broad — spanning across proactive initiatives like actioning abandoned carts and solving issues for customers before they become bigger problems to other use cases like preventive planning — it can cause a lot of frustration for customers and agents if done without the right steps to safeguard and test.
At Zendesk, we expect most customer service interactions will be AI-first by 2025 and we are already seeing positive uptake across industries. While AI-powered solutions have significant upside, businesses must understand that AI is only as good as the intelligence it’s fed and some situations still call for a human touch. For example, current AI tools like ChatGPT that use generative AI technologies provide great foundational capabilities. However, companies that intend to use such tools to deliver better customer experiences must ensure they are specifically trained for CX and are built to help agents gather actionable customer insights immediately.
Building trust in the technology is also critical — once lost, it can be difficult to rebuild. Thus, making sure AI is properly enabled is paramount. Placing an emphasis on transparency and accuracy from the outset can help build trust in the technology, particularly when agents have visibility into the quality of AI predictions and confidence scores. Brands need to provide accurate responses and know when to escalate to an agent for more nuanced 1:1 conversations. For instance, chatbots are fast becoming a favourite among businesses but most of them are clunky with limited scope. Now, imagine pre-trained bots that leverage an extensive CX database. Agents can address customer issues confidently with relevant context to offer deeper personalization while also ensuring the responses are industry-specific and accurate.
Rajeev: What are the potential risks or challenges associated with implementing AI-powered CX solutions? How can businesses mitigate them?
Vasudeva: Businesses looking to integrate AI into CX functions should remember that AI can make mistakes. If such solutions are deployed without human oversight, it could have negative outcomes, thereby increasing the risk of losing customers to competitors. The good thing is that AI learns over time, but human oversight is especially crucial during the initial stages of training.
What’s more, a majority of consumers want AI to improve interactions, not replace agents. In fact, 81% of consumers say having access to a human agent is critical in maintaining their trust with a business when they have trouble with AI customer service. That’s why businesses should not go in with the mindset that AI-powered solutions should replace all frontline staff.
Businesses need to decide what tasks should and shouldn’t be handled completely by AI — and this varies business to business. They need to set a threshold for how complex an issue AI should handle before it’s handed over to an agent, and there will always be some scenarios where human oversight is required. Because inevitably, customers will want to talk to someone and not a machine when their issues are complicated.
Businesses can mitigate the risks of inaccuracy, and the consequences of not providing frictionless experiences by having a well-thought out human-automation strategy. It ensures AI is implemented to suit the business’ requirements and customer needs. Human touch is still vital, so businesses should deploy AI to automate time-consuming, manual tasks instead of replacing the entire service team with bots. Minimising risk requires strategies that are centred around the best utilisation of resources. AI should act as a force multiplier, by assisting humans while they work on higher value tasks. This will ensure investments into AI are not wasted while mitigating unwanted risks.
Rajeev: In what ways can AI solutions contribute to reducing customer service costs and improve efficiency?
Vasudeva: One of the biggest opportunities in using AI is its ability to eliminate significant amounts of manual workload that can be low value and time consuming, thus helping businesses achieve better utilisation of resources. This can be anything from intelligent triaging of customer queries to ensure the more complex tickets go straight to an agent with specialised knowledge relevant to that ticket, to sentiment and intent analysis that gives agents actionable insights on which carts are at risk of being abandoned.
Picture this, instead of manually trawling through different sources for customer purchase history and past queries, an AI-powered CX solution can provide agents with an accurate summary of a customer’s interaction history instantly. Add generative AI into the mix and it can even suggest the ideal reply that allows agents to solve customer issues quickly, saving so much time from reading pages of text or spending significant time looking for information.
Rajeev: How can AI-powered CX solutions help businesses maintain a competitive edge in a challenging economic environment?
Vasudeva: During times of economic uncertainty, businesses are under pressure to cut costs and still innovate. At the same time, customer service expectations continue to rise — 80% of consumers in India say their customer service standards have risen over the past year. Businesses can benefit with AI that’s built for CX functions with a deep understanding of what customers want. While it can help reduce costs, the right technologies can also offer you an advantage over your competitors.
When companies use the right AI strategically, it can be a powerful tool to improve loyalty, increase retention and also form meaningful connections with customers. Businesses can earn positive ROI if AI experiences are more evolved and conversational, offer deeper personalisation and focus on customer well being — exactly what customers want. 77% of customers in India expect all experiences — in-store and online — to be personalised.
Adopting the right AI-powered solutions presents a huge opportunity for cross-selling and upselling. With the insights from advanced AI solutions, businesses can action abandoned carts, support active carts, share feature promotions in the moment and create personalised buying journeys, helping them create meaningful experiences that keep customers coming back for more. Agents can also accelerate sales by identifying new revenue opportunities with intelligence on purchase history, merchandise preferences and browsing journeys to drive better product recommendations. Ultimately, AI solutions that are built for delivering great CX can be a great tool in any business' arsenal to set themselves apart from the competition.
Rajeev: How has Zendesk's performance been so far? Please tell us about your goals for FY 2023-24.
Vasudeva: Customer demands are continuously evolving, and we are staying ahead innovation-wise to cater to that change. We recently launched Zendesk AI, an intelligence layer that makes personalised, efficient and more empathetic CX accessible for all companies. This solution combines decades of Zendesk’s unique data and insights with new AI technologies, including the company’s proprietary models, as well as Large Language Models.
Customers today are driving the rise of conversational experiences. They want fluid, friendly and natural interactions that put them in control and do not interrupt current tasks. In fact, 80% of customers in India spend more with brands that provide a seamless experience between all points of contact. Against this backdrop, we recently introduced Conversational Commerce, designed to connect brands with shoppers throughout their digital customer experience journey in order to provide direct support, marketing, and sales all from within a conversation.
Looking ahead, our priority is to do what we’ve always done – focus on our customers and their needs. We will do so by creating value for them in terms of delivering better and greater experiences. We will continue to explore the many facets of CX innovations and tools including AI to find ways to incorporate technology into various parts of the customer and agent journey in order to improve overall efficiency while delivering immersive experiences for all.