The next generation of customer service: How data is powering virtual assistants


From Apple’s voice-powered assistant Siri to Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) arm DeepMind, the ways in which we interact with technology are constantly changing. For businesses in particular, advancements in AI are challenging the concept of traditional customer service, whether it’s online chat bots widely used for technical support in banking or the databases working behind the scenes to train staff in call centres. While some contest that this technology is taking away the personal touch, businesses should be considering how they can use big data to enhance customer experiences.

Google announced that it can carry out zero-shot translation using only machine learning, a breakthrough which could see the company quickly translate between a large number of languages. By adding this level of machine learning, AI is creating a completely personalised service and catching up with consumer demand by predicting what customers are looking for. This ability to understand data in real-time is what will allow businesses to stay ahead of its competitors. For marketers, these are exciting developments that open a range of opportunities to improve customer experience through the smarter application of data.

In the hospitality industry, Luxury European hotel chain The Dorchester Collection is using AI platform Metis to directly access digital feedback. Rather than relying on methods such as satisfaction surveys, the platform can review in multiple languages, summarise the key findings and even put it in context against the competition.

Similarly in call centres, AI is helping customer service teams to resolve issues more quickly. Take start-up Digital Genius for example. Using historic customer service chats, as well as frequently asked questions, the platform creates a database of information and suggests how employees should proceed. However, while consumers still opt to discuss complex or sensitive issues with a human, companies such as IPSoft are blurring the lines further by creating artificial intelligence that has an emotional capacity, taking away the cost, time and need for human context that is associated with customer service.

With big names like Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Google already getting in on the trend, the sheer volume of data being collected is what’s making this investment in technology possible. Companies looking to benefit from virtual assistants should therefore understand their pressure points in order to achieve seamless customer service. For marketers, this means getting the richest customer data as possible – finding out the likes and dislikes of its target audience and running with it.

As customers play a big role in the success or failure of a company, getting the most out of consumer data will be the key to a loyal and returning customer base. Marketers will need to start looking at every aspect of a business, whether it’s customer communications or product delivery, in order to maintain some of the control. In the future, co-creation will be a useful way of balancing personalisation and automation, especially as more and more consumers look for an instant response on whatever platform they choose.

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