Executive Interview: AI and the Customer Experience Journey


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Inside the CX Universe with @LeonPapkoff

Artificial intelligence made it onto every “trend to watch in 2019” list. But how does this technology play into customer experience? Are businesses truly ready to sit back and watch as AI does all the work? I discussed this with CEO Leon Papkoff.

His insights illuminated the challenges of implementing AI when it comes to context – both understanding the value of a particular customer and that individual’s comfort level with an automated customer journey. Also, Leon touches on “CX as an art form” and how thanks to AI it will become more akin to a hard science during our lifetimes …

Question: Due to the rise of AI, many elements of CX programs can be automated so customer service can happen with less human interaction. What do you think the pros and cons of this are?

A lot of times, customer experience starts with customer support. When it comes to support, there can be a huge benefit to automation: AI can handle large customer query volumes, which can be really helpful for handling load and volume, especially as companies scale.

But i’m not sure AI can fully understand the context of the customer yet. As a customer, you’re trying to resolve a certain problem or perform a specific task, yet AI doesn’t necessarily understand that particular area, issue, or the situational context that brought the customer to this particular point in their journey. Right now, AI systems may not be sophisticated enough to understand this or even customer sentiment, which plays a big factor in the journey as well. But lot’s of companies are trying to understand, measure, and fix this, so I do believe as AI gets more intelligent, it will understand how to answer more detailed questions.

Overall, for the next couple years, AI is not always going to understand the context of the individual that’s calling and the support questions they carry. You don’t want to rely too heavily on AI for really important customers – those individuals require special attention.

Context is a term that AI is challenged with. If AI doesn’t understand context well, then that can be a detriment to the customer experience and the brand.

So my advice is: be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. Understand AI’s strengths and weaknesses.

Question: You mentioned the importance of understanding the limitations and capabilities of AI. What should a company be aware of when it comes to successfully integrating this tech into the customer experience?

It’s all about being aware of context.

So, let me give you an example of what I mean there. In five years, would I trust AI to drive my car from my house to a customer meeting without me touching any of the controls in the car? Yes, I probably would.

Would I trust AI to help me purchase a new car with all the options I wanted and manage all the financial aspects? Probably not. Those decisions and assumptions are a little more sensitive. If I’m going to agree to a large expenditure like purchasing a new car I want the focused attention of a human customer representative. So, there’s kind of a unique difference there – it’s putting context around my experience and how it fits into my life, life choices, and potential outcomes. On one level, I’m letting the AI drive me; I’m literally putting my life in the hands of the computer and on another level, I won’t trust AI to deal with my finances.

Eventually, AI will reach a point where it will be intelligent enough for every single company out there and every human out there. Frankly, as humans, it will be extremely difficult for us to even identify whether it’s AI or a human. That’s coming.

When you get on the phone, you won’t know if it’s a computer or a person …

Don’t believe it? Here’s a video of a Google AI system booking an appointment live over the phone: Watch Now

Question: As AI improves, is there still going to be a place for humans behind the scenes, crafting the customer journey strategy? Or will automation take over the entire process?

It depends on what timeframe you’re talking about. It’s possible that 50 years from now, AI could take over everything. I think AI will be able to understand the customer journey based on data of what humans like to do and the journeys humans like to go on. When users start to create a new trend or way of doing things, the AI *should* be able to adjust automatically.

Customer experience today is an art form that science can back up, but it is still an art form for us.

Question: For some companies right now, there’s a disconnect between obtaining insights from data they’re gathering and making changes in the customer experience. Why do you think that is?

I think we’re going through a period of time right now where there’s a lot of data gathering.

Most companies are gathering data and they’re not 100% sure what to do with all of it.

It depends on what the market is doing, internal business processes, and a change leader to effectively manage, manipulate, and deploy strategies around data collection.

There has to be an individual in a company that says – “Hey, look at all this data! Here’s some trends that we’re starting to see and based on these trends, we should maybe make these adjustments, or pivot”. There’s always got to be a person that thinks about that. I think software will help them come up with those trends, or sort the data out and realize those trends are there.

It’s a combination of humans and software that are understanding how to deal with data, but just maybe, in the future, it will be an AI system making those business decisions and articulating: “Hey, mister COO, you should now make these adjustments in order to save X dollars a year. Click here to execute”.

But, that’s the future…

The transformation is happening now.

Diana Serrano
I am a marketing professional with experience in content creation, A/B testing, SEM/SEO and social media management. I am passionate about using clear communication to craft a compelling brand story. I strive to constantly improve by studying in my free time. For leisure, I write and sail.


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