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Top 7 ‘AI for customer service’ discussion themes

During Q4 this year, I have been – intentionally and accidentally – involved in a series of discussions dealing with the impact of AI technology and solutions on customer engagement & services. Discussions specifically concerning my industry (pharma) as well as cross-industries discussions. Not all intentionally, sometimes the discussion simply came up due to factually haven been a key topic in the whole customer engagement & services space throughout 2023.

While discussing – or sometimes just listening to – how AI is going to change our world, I soon recognized some perseverative topics which I would like to share with you. Based on what I observed (what does not claim to be a scientific analysis but just a very personal impression), here are my …

Current Top 7 AI discussion themes in Q4 2023

1. AI will enforce customer centricity!

I consistently found an agreement that AI – used in a smart way – can be a true booster for CX. Full stop. (actually, you can stop reading here ;-)).

AI will not only boost CX via its output, but also with internally putting the customer more in the center. I mean, if you seriously want to provide your customers with AI-based services, it will be vital to be focused on, fully know and properly consider your customers’ very detailed needs. Mid-term, AI might even be able to anticipate customer needs better than ever before. But again, this will require to set-up and feed your AI in a way that it knows your customers extremely well … which means you need to know them extremely well.

2. Hype vs factual reality

I think we all agree that AI is going to stay. AI will become integrated part of tomorrows reality, this is too evident already. Not in 10-20 years, likely more in the range of 2-3 years. In some markets the technical maturity of AI might not be robust enough today. for meeting requirements. E.g. considering ‘hallucinations‘, where in pharma there is zero tolerance with providing 100% accurate information to customers, as there will always be an impact on patients’ health and lives. But in industries where this high accuracy might not be required, AI can do a lot EO 2023 already.

3. Internal use vs external use

Listening to people across industries, my impression is that the internal play & learn with AI has heavily started. Internal use with analytics but also to support customer facing roles are the obvious quick wins for AI. Direct exposure to the customer beyond pilots – so, external use at scale – will quickly grow while we learn, and some industries might activate external use cases soon already.

4. Tech-driven vs business-driven

In basically all discussions I had been exposed to, there was a shared observation that currently many AI ‘play & learn’ approaches or applications seem to be more tech-driven. Focused on the features and capabilities of the technology … “What is AI able to do?”.

And interestingly there has been consensus across industry and functional backgrounds and that AI use should be primarily business- and customer-impact-driven“How can AI support a concrete prioritized business outcome?”. So, instead of burning money for playing with technology, to use resources more wisely by focusing on clear business impact and customer needs. Seems to be a no-brainer? Certainly, but is this what you currently see?

5. Cost-saving-driven vs business-value-driven

In the discussions the fact that most AI approaches people see being discussed in their companies, are actually focusing on ‘how can AI help us to reduce costs?’, e.g. by the machine replacing people. Which is a fair approach to my humble opinion. Before AI, technological evolution has led to a substantial reduction of work force in factories already; just compare a pictures of assembly works in automobile factories dated in the 1910’s, 1970’s and 2023.

car production 1910-2023
©Unsplash, GettyImages, Autodrome

But, on the contrary, just following the cost-saving temptation might be a risk. It really surprised me to repeatedly hear by different colleagues at different places that companies using AI mainly for cost-savings will definitely lose the race. And I found a lot of affirmation that the winners will be players who primarily apply AI business-value-driven. Again, his is where the full power is.

Perhaps it is less one vs the other. But more what is your prio’ed outcome and what might be the appreciated windfall gain.

6. AI vs human

Isn’t there a bias? In people’s brains. I mean, seriously, in my home country, in every news broadcast or press article dealing with AI the key statement feels being “AI is going to get your job”. So, should I be surprised that colleagues who are bombarded by this messaging over and over again are look at AI with a negative bias?

A key outcome of hardly any discussion around AI over the past 3-4 months has been that it might be less ‘AI vs human’ … but more ‘human and AI’, hybrid. Think about customer centers. Will AI really fully replace the human, or support? Will the full power be with AI or AI and human playing together their particular strengths together?

Let me give you an example from my industry. In pharma we also have customer contact centers. And ex-US our contact centers are primarily used to answer medical inquiries on our products (but no sales or cross-selling etc.). And the answers to those customer questions need to be very precise and accurate, as nuances of the information provided can decide on patient’s well-being. In this context trust matters. If you are a physician who wants to provide the best level of care and the right treatment to your patient, you need to trust the one who is giving you the answer. And what we see across industry is that in many cases physicians still want to speak to humans, especially with non-standard questions. Making a long story short. I dare giving the prognosis that sooner or later we will see AI taking care of standard questions, the ones which

So, in a nutshell, the human/AI hybrid model will give our colleagues a better life. AI will take load of them. And AI will help them to give even more reliable answers. Will this be associated with some reduction of workforce? Likely yes. But AI will also give many other colleagues a better and more satisfying working life … which is a positive perspective and a ‘bias’ I would like to see more.

Parenthesis …

“AI vs human” … will this be a suitable question in the future at all? As a customer will I be able to actually distinguish in 3-4 years? Will I continue to care once AI has been improved to a state where it will not feel being different? I am not convinced that this 2023 question will still matter in a few years.

7. What will be the impact of future AI regulation?

OK, as someone who is working in the hyper-regulated pharma industry, I dare to say that we are used to regulations. We know how to deal with it and properly consider it, it is anyhow part of our day-to-day business. In my opinion, regulation can even be seen as an opportunity. The mission of regulations in pharma is to ensure that every patient gets the right, the most effective and the safest treatment for his conditions. Which is a great mission, also for me personally as a potential patient and for my family & friends with some being patients. Taking this perspective, I learned to love regulation and see it as a feature not a bug.

On the other hand … I certainly understand colleagues, especially from less regulated industries being less used to it, who are concerned if any investments into AI today might become worthless tomorrow by authorities’ regulations or restrictions. But isn’t this a challenge with every innovation? Should this stop you from start walking? Is ‘sit & wait’ really an appropriate tactics? Is there really a risk with internal AI uses, allowing your company to learn? Yes, likely there might be some regulation over time. But – again – perhaps regulation can even be more a feature than a bug.

So, those have been my top 7 current AI for customer engagement & services discussion themes. And I am already curious what the topics will be EO 2024, and how much things will have evolved.

I am wishing you a peaceful, relaxing and enjoyable break. Thank you very much for being an interested and well-disposed reader of the CX Inspiration Hub this year. I hope one or the other thought or inspiration has been helpful for you. I am shutting myself off now for some digital detox ;-), write you again back in 2024.

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