Autonomous Service Technology is Putting Customers in the Driver(less) Seat

By Jeff Nicholson, Global Leader, CRM Strategy, Pegasystems

When we think about the recent buzz around the word “autonomous,” our minds often tend to think of vehicles, specifically the emerging world of self-driving cars. From Google, to Tesla, to mainstream auto brands; seemingly every manufacturer is charging after this segment. These game-changing vehicles are guided by artificial intelligence and have the potential to improve and dramatically transform transportation safety and its accessibility. And while once a futuristic concept, autonomous cars are becoming a reality thanks to this evolving technology. But this is not the only industry that’s about to be completely revolutionized by AI and the concept of the autonomy spectrum.

Autonomous is no longer just for vehicles – it’s on the cusp of transforming the world of customer service. Just like autonomous vehicles can interpret environmental factors, as well as driver and vehicle information in real time for optimal vehicle performance and safety, customer service technology now has the power to take a very similar approach. Enabled by advances in AI, there’s a new generation of customer service that’s automated, preemptive, journey-oriented, and ultimately puts the customer in the metaphorical (autonomous) driver’s seat – getting quality service without needing to put in much effort.

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Fueling the transition is the proliferation of digital touch points and conversational mediums like web chat, social media, chatbots, intelligent virtual assistants, and even advanced virtual reality, which have the potential to completely change the face of customer service for the better. And enhancing customer service experiences should be top of mind for every organization: according to a recent Pega survey, 77% of customers would take their business elsewhere if they received poor service.

Even if organizations are meeting customers on their preferred digital channels, 46 percent of customers don’t expect organizations’ current self-service to work, so it’s time to change the narrative. Organizations need to implement the right strategies in order for the service industry to continue on this potentially life-changing trajectory. Here is what to keep in mind when embarking on your own autonomous service journey:

Understand your customers – and your own business’ shortcomings

Today’s customers don’t care how an issue gets resolved, just that it gets resolved quickly. Particularly after living through a pandemic that forced them to seek service through other channels from the safety of their homes, they’re more willing than ever before to use self-service technology. In fact, 45% of customers are more likely to use self-service today than before the pandemic. This consumer willingness to use automated digital channels to resolve service issues is a great opportunity for brands not already taking advantage. The ability to solve service issues via autonomous channels frees up time and resources for agents to tackle higher-level service issues.

What’s critical here is also consistency in experiences. For many companies, phone calls with agents and in-person interactions may be significantly better than their chatbot capabilities, for example. That’s at the heart of the problem. Eighty percent of businesses admit that the level of service they provide is different across channels. It’s one thing to be present on all channels, but that’s not enough – brands need the ability to equally resolve issues on those channels. Customers need consistent experiences, and it’s on brands to meet customers where they are and get their issues resolved in that moment.

The final shoe to drop is continuity. For example, when a customer starts an interaction via text, that interaction needs to follow them through web chat or to an agent if it needs to be escalated. Autonomous technology can help sort through the noise and carry through that context seamlessly from one channel to the next. This results in not only shorter agent interactions (and lower average handling time) but also faster resolution for customers.

Organizing technology around the customer journey

Autonomous technology is here to provide better, more consistent, and faster service. This new generation of AI-powered autonomous service is fundamentally different. These advances in technology are not the same as the prior generations of chatbots and portals that can commonly frustrate customers and fail to ultimately contain the service inquiry.

The game changer is organizing autonomous service around the customers’ journey, which allows the business to extend the journey-centric insights and processes to any digital touch point. These touch points may include intelligent virtual assistants (IVA), email robots, and even contextual self-service portals that inherently understand each customer’s unique personal service journey. This allows the digital experience to, in many cases, present the very same level of journey-driven understanding and resolution they would receive via a human agent for massively different outcomes. This new generation of tech also has the ability to improve even agent-based interactions by applying the very same elements of AI and automation to “augment” agents’ abilities, allowing the tech to serve as a helpful co-pilot during live agent interactions.

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The benefits already speak for themselves: businesses that have applied this new form of autonomous service technology have observed extremely high resolution (containment) rates of their highest volume inquiries without requiring an agent at all. Additionally, this autonomous approach enables more centralized organization, rather than by channel, to maintain the customers’ journey state even as they move across channels. Customers no longer have to repeat themselves multiple times on a service call.

While this technology is exciting, it’s also important to note that not all approaches are created equal. It’s important to determine your customer strategy, goals you’re looking to accomplish, and find a solution (or solutions) that will help you get there. Quick-fix tech may provide a temporary band aid by solving a particular issue in the moment but may not be right for your long-term strategy. Look for smart solutions that will best support your employees and customers – both now and down the line.

Enter “Service Tech” – the future of service

We’ve all heard of MarTech, but now it’s time for the recognition of a new world of Service Tech – technology that forms the foundation to allow organizations to provide the best customer service they can, wherever and whenever it is needed. Autonomous technologies have made it possible to enter a transformative era of proactive and preemptive service. Here, the technology is able to use real-time AI, intelligent automation, and event/pattern detection to, at times, resolve issues before they even arise – much like the progressive levels of autonomous features in today’s vehicles.

Much like there is a spectrum of vehicle autonomy, where AI assists the driver with progressively more advanced capabilities, businesses may employ a spectrum of service autonomy as well. Consider that some vehicles have the ability to alert drivers when they leave the lane, others will gently nudge the vehicle on track, and others still may be nearly self-driving, depending upon the conditions and options selected. The same nature of augmentation is now coming of age in the world of customer service as well, where AI has the ability to automatically surface knowledge content, pre-populate responses, and even enter data into the screen, based upon what is said in the live conversation.

 This technology doesn’t replace your agents. Rather, it supports them. It makes them more efficient and allows them to focus upon the more meaningful, higher complexity interactions where the human touch and empathy is most required. In the end, those who are equipping their service departments with autonomous technology are the ones who will provide better customer service. A strong autonomous technology strategy and implementation not only helps employees increase productivity and enables them to dedicate more of their time to higher-level, more sensitive service issues, it encourages more brand loyalty in the form of happier customers.

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