AI, gig, and you: the holy trinity of customer service

9 min read
AI, gig, and you: the holy trinity of customer service
Artwork by Nicolae Negura

Since I joined Unbabel as the VP of Global Alliances, I’ve been working closely with partners like Zendesk, Salesforce, Microsoft, and Concentrix, to figure out ways to improve customer experience, make it more efficient, and reduce costs.

But bringing disruption to a large-scale operation is not easy, and people often end up rushing headlong towards the newest technological advances, particularly artificial intelligence, as if they could solve all their problems.

No matter how hard you push for automation or how many chatbots you get up and running, you’re still going to struggle with the same issues if you don’t confront your pain points right from the start. Your customers aren’t hot for bots. They’re just looking to get their questions answered. You won’t save money if your automated replies don’t actually resolve customer queries and end up duplicating support processes.

It’s as if the cure is worse than the disease—but deploying AI doesn’t have to be like this.

How can you properly implement these innovative tools in your business? How can you get your team to use them? How should you look at artificial intelligence in customer service? And ultimately, what does the future of customer service look like?

These questions were top of mind a couple of months ago, when I was preparing a presentation for the Unbabel Sales Kick Off, an internal event we do once a year for our sales and business development teams. And what I’ve come to realize is that the future of customer service will rely not only on a more nuanced approach to technological initiatives, but also on three key pillars — what I call the “Holy Trinity of Customer Service”:

  1. Artificial Intelligence
  2. The gig economy
  3. The human element

I’ve written an overview on how to blend these three elements to transform your customer experience and unlock operational efficiency. If you’re interested in learning more, I’ll be going into greater detail about my approach on a Webinar with Helpshift.

Artificial Intelligence

1. Artificial Intelligence

Truth be told, AI is an overused term that everyone is desperate to show they’ve actually made good on. But the hype resounds for a reason: AI will shape the future of customer service. We need to be smart about how we use it.

As Andrew Moore, the head of Google’s Cloud AI business, said in an interview for MIT Technology Review last year, AI is not “magic dust that you sprinkle on an organization and it just gets smarter.”

Understanding the technology

Most people that I talk to about Artificial Intelligence see it as a revolutionary technology that will either dominate our world or realize our most vivid sci-fi pipe dreams, with each of us receiving a personal droid. But there’s much more to AI than pure fantasy.

Therefore, the first step in using AI effectively is understanding what it actually consists of. Broadly speaking, it mimics some elements of human intelligence in machines. It works through machine learning, in which an AI model is trained on certain sets of data to learn what’s normal, what’s not normal, what’s expected of it, and what information it needs to output.

Historical data is usually used to train the machine. Once trained on the right data, the machine can begin predicting results or optimizing operations. There lies the appeal of Artificial Intelligence for customer service.

It all comes down to making smart decisions and understanding where AI can help you achieve better results, increase customer satisfaction, cut down costs, scale operations, and have a better, more personalized customer experience.

In a study conducted by eMarketer, when asked about the most important aspect of a good digital customer experience, 38% of users said it was getting their issue solved in a single interaction, while 26% said it was receiving a speedy and timely response.

Automation in customer service operations is rapidly taking many forms, from multilingual customer communication to AI-powered chatbots. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020, only 15% of customer interactions will be handled by humans.

What problem are you solving?

You have to remember what made you think of implementing AI in the first place. Understand the problem you’re trying to solve and whether using artificial intelligence is going to be helpful or not.

In fact, there are so many companies experimenting with Artificial Intelligence that they often fall prey to the hype and end up making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In order to avoid this, here are a few questions you should be asking yourself:

  • What is your goal?
  • How will you implement the solution?
  • Is it easily integrated into your workflow?
  • How will you measure success?

If you’re able to measure the impact of that particular tool, analyze quality, and gauge how to improve performance, you’re on the right track.

Some words of caution before you start shopping for AI-powered tools: There have been many reports of companies that are quietly using humans to do bots’ work in what some experts call a “Wizard of Oz technique.”

Gig economy

2. Gig economy

The Gig Economy is taking over the world and independent-contractor jobs are quickly becoming the new normal. Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 55 million people in the U.S. are “gig workers,” which is more than 35% of the U.S. workforce. That number is projected to jump to 43% by 2020. So no wonder that so many people have been discussing applying this model to customer service.

The advantages of non-traditional labor models in customer service

As companies struggle to balance the need to contain costs and to provide differentiating customer service, they need to explore non-traditional — or gig economy — labor models. A gig economy approach would allow brands to manage this process in an intentional way, reducing costs while keeping quality of service up.

There’s still a great amount of uncertainty around this topic. When the Head of Gig Economy at Microsoft asked everyone in a room with 100 VPs of customer service to put their hand up if they were doing something meaningful with gig economy in CS, only about 10% of those present raised their hands.

But you’d actually be surprised to see the operational advantages of applying this labor model.

Hiring freelancers for customer service will allow you to have a more flexible and agile team. You’ll be able to handle high-volume, repeated customer issues, and use expert communities to provide high-touch service to customers or even peer to peer support. This will allow you to offload a significant chunk of your customer support to these communities (companies like Apple have been doing this for years now).

Reducing costs, improving CSAT, and scaling operations

Applying a gig economy model to customer service has proven to be a very successful experiment for certain brands. And it’s actually easier than it looks, once you find the right partner.

Samsung is a great example of this. When the South Korean tech giant made the decision to push for a move from voice to written digital channels like chat and email, they applied a gig economy model. With the help of Directly, a company that has built a platform of gig workers in customer service, Samsung managed to scale a gig network of mobile phone experts in 6 months serving 70M users. The results were quite astonishing: 2 min. response time, 90% CSAT, 90% resolution rate, and only 10% of the queries had to be solved by an in-house agent.

LinkedIn built a similar model with Directly. They realized they needed to increase agent headcount by 50% in 12 months. But they knew they wouldn’t be able to hire fast enough and outsourcing wasn’t an option they were willing to consider. The solution? Leveraging highly knowledgeable Linkedin members to provide support to the free-tier members. This way, they managed to allow their agents to spend time serving the premium customers instead.

At Unbabel, we’re taking a similar approach but with multilingual customer support. Powered by AI and refined by a global community of human linguists, Unbabel is able to deliver professional-grade content at the scale required by modern enterprises. And this is what we’ve been doing for companies like Skyscanner, Booking.com, EasyJet, Microsoft, and Rovio. So by combining human expertise and artificial intelligence, we give businesses and their customers the ability to understand each other, make smarter choices, and have richer experiences.

The human element

3. The human element

Now, all that I mentioned above would never be possible without human agents. Sure, automation is great. But in the end, it’s all about choosing the right touchpoints to automate. You’re still going to need humans to do the rest — and add finesse.

So I strongly believe that every successful customer experience innovation project has to further empower humans and make them better at their job.

Thanks to self-service technologies and artificial intelligence tools that improve customer experience, support agents are getting to the issues customers can’t solve on their own. However, despite the decrease in volume of support tickets, the job of a customer service agent doesn’t get any easier.

They are under constant crossfire, facing the rage of angry customers and dealing with the complex problems that machines can’t solve. This means that the people in your team need to be ready and fully equipped to tackle the challenges of customer support.

You need to focus a lot more on defining the right processes for your customer support team and train them to use the most useful tools.

In the end, it’s not just about bringing innovation to customer service for the sake of it but knowing exactly what to put into practice and how to implement it. This holy trinity may give you a head start.

Webinar: How to Leverage AI to Build Productive Teams in 2019

“Gartner predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of the relationship with enterprises without interacting with a human.”

2020 is right around the corner — so it’s more important than ever to begin thinking about technologies that will differentiate your brand. Regardless of industry, businesses across the board can benefit from re-evaluating their existing channels and experimenting with new tools that have the potential to deliver a vastly better CX.

Join our 30 minute webinar, with our partners from Helpshift, on March 5th, 2019 at 8:00 AM PST and get insights into:

  • How to properly use content to enrich your self-service channels
  • Areas you should invest in, to set your team up for success for the next few years
  • How AI and bots can modernize your digital customer service
  • How to leverage AI platforms to provide cost-effective support globally
Webinar - How to leverage AI to build productive teams in 2019
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