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People have written a lot about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on the customer experience (CX) - but so often there is a piece missing. Most of the articles and pieces by analysts focus on the benefit to the merchant, and those benefits are numerous. Somewhere along the line, though, it’s essential to look at what the customer gets out of it.
The good news is that there are many benefits, as discussed by Nicola Benedetto and Massimiliano Stigliani of Comdata Digital. At its best, AI helps smooth the customer journey and ensures the right experience is available - sometimes before the customer knows they want it.


“The problem is that so many companies have used AI to try to reduce the cost of customer support,” says Benedetto. “The longer the customer spends with the company the more it costs, so they try to reduce service time and manage the costs downward. Artificial Intelligence can add the possibility to widen the service capability at the same cost.” So it becomes not a matter of simple cost savings but an opportunity to implement better service as a strategy.


This better use of AI also means there will be a better use of the human element. Research companies are suggesting that in 2020 people will increasingly want to talk to humans rather than machines; Benedetto believes customers will simply want their problems solved, and if part of that process can be automated to solve any issues faster then they will be happy. It’s important to understand, he believes, that every time a new channel is introduced it doesn’t replace the old one, it just takes its place alongside it; 150 years ago people didn’t stop writing letters because of the telephone and emails/social media haven’t stopped people phoning in. New channels will no doubt emerge and it will take more and more AI to manage them all. It does this quickly, as Stigliani points out: “With our AI we can reconfigure a service every 30 minutes so it responds in real-time.”


Comdata sees the true role of an evolving AI in customer service being about putting the customers back at the center of the experience, where they belong. This involves a lot of change management at any company wanting to implement AI intelligently but it’s worth it. Comdata is working in three distinct areas: first an appointment system that allows asynchronous contact, so the customer can make or change appointments through SMS or chatbot at their own convenience rather than when the supplier is available; second in forecasting the workload and workforce configuration: “We can adjust operations and people to reach their KPI targets more easily,” says Stigliani.


“The third area we are looking at in particular is to increase our capacity to predict events,” says Benedetto. “To predict customer behaviour, to understand and predict, for example, when a customer will call a second time because their issue hasn’t been resolved.” If the AI can predict this and the supplier can intervene before the customer becomes frustrated, the experience improves once again.


The aim overall is to ensure that the customer experience serves the customer rather than the supplier whilst ensuring that costs are kept under control. There is change to company culture; in the past, companies have dictated how they look after customers. Now, customers contact their suppliers in ways that please them, they choose their own touchpoints and they expect to be able to make contact out of hours. The larger a company gets the more complex this process becomes; even changing an appointment can go through several levels of people so an AI bot that can put all the contacts in place is essential. Nobody should underestimate how difficult this can be.
This is not just a Comdata view. Data Scientist Gregory Rennard, who heads the AI team at Xbrain, puts it well: “Imagine a conversational agent capable of managing your shopping every week, anticipating your consumption with a subscription for delivery to your home, all in line with your monthly budget and values! This will save precious time that you can devote to other tasks much more fun than shopping!”


He is talking from the consumer’s point of view - but the trading partner who offers an experience like that will be rewarded with a closer relationship with that customer, and a more profitable one as you anticipate rather than react to their needs. Henry Ford famously said that if he’d asked customers what they wanted they would have asked for a faster horse. He struck lucky; with the aid of advanced AI it is possible to deliver the experience customers want before they know they want it.

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