Today’s ‘always on’ generation is putting unprecedented customer service demands on organisations. This is why the customer engagement practices of yesterday won’t work for tomorrow, warns Paul Pierotti, managing director, Applied Intelligence at Accenture in Ireland.
Intelligent customer engagement is the answer, and a simple way to explain it is to look at the transformation in how we listen to music.
In the past we tuned into the radio station that best suited our tastes and took what it offered us, waiting patiently for our favourite song to come on.
Today, we download Spotify and not only get our favourite music on demand, but intelligent suggestions about new tracks we’d probably like, based on our preferences - and we get that service 24/7.
“I love my Spotify. It’s a lovely experience. It picks music for me better than my wife does,” says Pierotti. “Then I connect with my bank and expect the same experience. Equally, if I can get a similarly great experience on Netflix, why can’t I get it in my interactions with the health sector? That demand is shifting very, very quickly.”
“At Accenture, Applied Intelligence is our unique approach to combining AI with data, analytics and automation, to transform businesses across every function and every process, at scale,” says Pierotti. “Intelligent Customer Engagement is a key component of this offering, helping organisations to implement an AI-powered solution to satisfy customers, create competitive differentiation and drive new growth. It works with customer service leaders struggling to create and sustain the “always-on, always-me” experiences that consumers expect.”
Increasingly, what consumers want is a highly personalised service from every organisation with which they interact. There is €130 billion of revenue at stake that companies are losing to competitors because they’re not relevant enough.
“So much of what businesses do now is about giving great experiences to customers and engaging them in ways that are consistent and accurate, and which meet their needs in the right way,” and at the right time, says Pierotti.
“It’s only been a relatively short time since we’ve had iPhones but already we are seeing a generation of digital natives coming through who are our clients’ key customers. They want to interact with companies in different ways, and how they want to do that is evolving.”
Organisations can no longer think of customer care as a discrete, standalone function
The result is that organisations can no longer think of customer care as a discrete, standalone function. “It has to be end to end, across all of your services and channels.”
To be truly intelligent, customer engagement “has to be personal to my needs,” says Pierotti. “It has to know me and be customised to me.”
It must also be delivered on the customer’s terms, whether they want to do their banking at 3am or ask questions via web chat.
Such a system must facilitate these interactions with ease, “by understanding and being empathetic to where the customer’s head is,” he explains.
It must have a flow that is seamless, across all channels, moving, for example, from chatbots to human interaction with ease and back again, as the customer need requires. “It is happening across almost every industry now,” says Pierotti.
Improve customer engagement while reducing costs
Get it right and it doesn’t just delight your customer, it saves your organisation money.
Accenture's research finds that companies which adopt well designed, fully automated, artificially intelligent solutions can reduce their customer engagement costs by 30 per cent, while, crucially, improving overall customer engagement.
Accenture's Intelligent Customer Engagement offering helps organisations to implement an AI-powered solution to satisfy customers and drive new growth
It’s an area of particular expertise for Accenture in Ireland.
Dublin is home to The Dock, Accenture’s flagship R&D and global innovation centre, where one of its main focuses is on new ways of addressing business problems by applying leading-edge AI techniques.
This gives it great strengths in the use of customer and marketing analytics to increase sales, customer satisfaction and retention. Accenture also has deep insight into the use of operational analytics to drive efficiencies, increase automation and reduce failures.
Good design is critical to the success of any system, with data analytics allowing for deep micro-segmentation of your customer base and AI driving the conversation through the customer journey.
Currently only around 5 per cent of customer conversations are automated, a figure which Pierotti reckons could be raised to 30 per cent “with ease”.
When successful, the operational savings coupled with the opportunity to free employees up to focus on the more rewarding aspects of their job, are striking. Pierotti gives the example of one large US telecoms company whose use of Intelligent Customer Engagement solutions is enabling it to deflect 250,000 customer calls a month to a variety of chatbots and automated digital landing sites.
The question for organisations is which conversations are appropriate to automate, which again comes back to good design, he says.
The Office of the Revenue Commissioners and Accenture are piloting a voice-driven virtual digital assistant to provide more streamlined tax-related services to Irish citizens using advanced AI. “This pilot improves taxpayer interaction and operational efficiency while also taking full account of requirements regarding confidentiality and security of data,” says Pierotti.
“The fear is always that automation destroys relationships with customers. In fact, that is not so. There are some discussions people prefer to have with an AI, such as in relation to debt, or taxes. Equally, there are certain health conversations which people may prefer to have with an AI based health advisor,” he says.
In Accenture's The Dock, research is being conducted into the ethics and ethical requirements around transparency in AI. “The global leaders we bring into The Dock are delighted and surprised by just how much expertise we have in this area in Ireland,” says Pierotti.
Intelligent Customer Engagement systems are increasingly offered "as a service" making them more cost effective than ever and delivering return on investment immediately
AI is increasingly generating insights in new areas too. For example, Accenture processes 20 million health insurance claims a year for its clients. By using AI, around 520,000 of these are now processed in a fully automated fashion which is not just boosting efficiencies but also, in an entirely new departure, helping to identify and diagnose conditions which are not in a person’s medical notes but the AI can infer from those notes.
“If a person takes drug A and B, but is also taking drug C, it can see diabetes, for example,” says Pierotti. All such cases then go forward to a nurse for verification. “Far more cases are being found in this way.”
The good news for organisations in all sectors is that intelligent customer engagement systems are increasingly offered “as a service”, rather than requiring upfront capital expenditure, making them more cost effective than ever and delivering return on investment immediately.
This opens up the prospect of delighting customers while at the same time driving internal efficiencies to many more organisations. “It’s about how you engage with your customer in a way that both manages the cost and enhances the experience,” he says.
To find out more about Intelligent Customer Engagement, view Accenture's report: Reinventing Service with AI.
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