Let’s rethink customer service
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What if you were to design your customer service experience for a new company? Where would you apply AI to attract and retain more profitable customers?

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We’ve all been in the situation where we press 2, explain everything, get routed to someone else, explain everything again, and get put on hold. John Thomas Vice President Data & AI Practice Lead, IBM Expert Labs

Unfortunately, the experience of being lost in a voice-prompt maze, or being routed from agent to agent without a resolution, is all too common. Ninety-one percent  of customers part ways with a company after just one bad experience.¹ To prevent such defections, organizations are creating customer service experiences in which questions get answered, problems are resolved and needs are met—in the shortest amount of time and in the least number of steps, calls or clicks.

One of the biggest obstacles is lack of awareness of how AI can help. A lot of people think AI is just about chatbots or virtual agents. That’s just the first few steps. John Thomas Vice President Data & AI Practice Lead, IBM Expert Labs

The IBM series, “Rethink & Automate,” invites leaders to reimagine common business and IT processes by approaching them from a greenfield perspective and embracing AI and automation. We asked John Thomas, Vice President and Data & AI Practice Lead at IBM Expert Labs, to describe what a customer service experience would look like if he were to design it for a new company. He outlines three approaches for designing a winning customer service experience using AI and automation.

Start with self-service

A lot of the questions that come in from customers can be handled through self-service channels, which is why many organizations have invested in call center technologies, IVR systems and the like. Thomas explains it’s probably the easiest and quickest way to start—and, when done right, can achieve quantifiable value. For example, an IBM study shows that companies that used a virtual agent were able to contain 64% of queries and reduce agent handle time by 4 minutes on average.²

Self-service is a good place to start. But self-service can only get you so far. John Thomas Vice President Data & AI Practice Lead, IBM Expert Labs

Use AI as a matchmaker

When a live agent is needed to resolve a query, you should be able to route it to the agent most qualified to address the specific problem. This is where you can use AI as a matchmaker, connecting incoming inquiries to the right agents.

Once you get to the right agents, you need to make them super agents. John Thomas Vice President Data & AI Practice Lead, IBM Expert Labs

Make your agents super agents

Most organizations have a lot of information locked away in unstructured content, documents, manuals and knowledge articles. AI can go through this large volume of data, find the right information, serve it up to the agent and even generate text that recommends how to handle the problem—all while the agent is interacting with the customer. With the help of AI, companies can reduce the time it takes agents to handle inquiries and leave customers feeling better understood and respected.

Rethink customer service

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Significant and immediate ROI

AI and automation can fundamentally transform the customer service experience by enhancing self-service, improving the routing to human agents, and augmenting the problem-solving or selling skills of human agents.

Companies that implement AI and automation to modernize customer service can see significant ROI as measured in total cost savings, customer satisfaction and loyalty.

An example is Camping World, a leading retailer of recreational vehicles (RVs) globally. By connecting its customers with a virtual agent named Arvee and enabling live agents to take over more complex conversations, Camping World increased customer engagement by 40% on all platforms and boosted agent efficiency by 33%.³

When you look at the total number of chat conversations—13,999 for retail and only 6,000 needed to be then transferred to a live agent—that’s incredible. Brenda Wintrow Senior Vice President Sales and Customer Experience, Camping World

That amounted to nearly 8,000 conversations that were answered with Arvee and through the integration of the enhanced and improved intents. “When it gets to the agents, it allows the opportunity for more revenue-generating conversations and upselling opportunities,” says Brenda Wintrow, Senior Vice President of Sales and Customer Experience at Camping World.

Thought starters Four tips for successfully jumpstarting a customer service transformation project using AI and automation Pick one line of business and one product

Start with your most relevant service or product line.

Focus on your most impactful channels

Can the bulk of your inquiries be resolved with self-service, or do most of them need to be handled by a human? If the latter, spend more time equipping your agents.

Evaluate your existing technology

If your self-service investments deliver containment rates that meet your business goals, there’s no need to throw them away. Focus on making your agents super agents.

Fill in the gaps

If self-service channels are underperforming, check if dialog flows make sense, if there’s duplication in how they’re handled, or if you need to fine-tune how you understand customer intent.

Next steps

Deliver better customer service.


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Summary of chapters
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Ch. 1: Let's rethink recruiting Ch. 2: Let's rethink retail operations Ch. 3: Let's rethink IT DevOps Ch. 4: Let's rethink cloud operations

1. 40 Customer Service Statistics to Move Your Business Forward (Link resides outside ibm.com), Salesforce, The 360 Blog, 1 May, 2019.
2. The value of virtual agent technology, IBM Institute for Business Value, October 2020.
3. Driving a reimagined customer experience with an AI-powered virtual assistant, IBM case study, June 2022.


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