For businesses across industries, there’s never been a more mission critical moment than the one we’re in right now. Various technologies associated with AI—most notably OpenAI’s ChatGPT—have thrown harsh light on the inadequate structures girding most so-called modern companies while also setting blazing fires at their feet.
It’s been very dramatic. Sadly, far too many enterprises are applying these technologies in ways that are damaging their relationships with customers. By focusing automation efforts on costs-cutting measures that often deceive customers, companies are mortgaging their futures on a losing proposition. There are plenty of examples to draw from, but I was recently reminded how poorly this is playing out in the airline industry by award-winning travel reporter Peter Greenberg.
“The transportation and hospitality industry doesn’t understand value, they understand cost,” he told me. Greenberg described common scenarios where airlines are clearly tracking your ticket searches and bumping the price up when you revisit a flight you’d looked at hours prior. When he called an airline representative to discuss the price surge in a ticket from New York to Los Angeles, he was told it was due to demand on a popular flight. Greenberg tested the theory against a ticket search for a flight from New York to Des Moines several months in the future and watched the price jump on a flight he knew demand was low for.
Only days earlier, I’d asked ChatGPT for advice on how to book a flight at the lowest cost. Its first suggestion was to only search for flights in incognito mode so that airlines can’t track your browsing. Greenberg and I had a good laugh, but this is a grim reality. It’s common knowledge to a large language models (LLMs) that airlines are focusing their efforts with technology on cutting costs by deceiving customers.
First of all, that’s terrible customer service. It’s symptomatic of another point Greenberg made to me about airlines, one that applies to businesses across industries: they don’t want to talk to you. Too many cost cutting chatbots and IVRs exist solely to keep customers from talking to live agents. This is a short-sighted approach to integrating technology that’s actually quite risky. The real wins with conversational AI in particular come when the technology becomes part of meaningful automations that elevate customer experience. In most industries, all it will take is one company getting this right to completely upend customer expectations. At this point, any org that’s been barrelling down the cost-cutting path will have moved so far in the wrong direction that they won’t be able to catch up.
I’ve worked with Fortune 500 companies that are making a long-term investment in enhancing customer and employee experience with AI. It’s paying off in massive and enduring ways. One such company—a U.S. retailer with 1,000+ locations—redesigned their call center using conversational AI with the goal of getting calls to the right people quickly and efficiently. Customers calling to find out about store hours can be serviced effectively by a bot, or intelligent digital worker (IDW). If their request is more specific, the IDW can route the customer to the best person to help. If that person is a call center agent, the agent can give the issue their full attention, with an IDW providing relevant informational prompts behind the scenes. If that person is a sales representative inside a retail location, they can provide better customer service because they aren’t distracted by callers looking for directions or store hours.
This company receives more than 30 million calls per year, and we were able to achieve a 300% decrease in unanswered calls, leading to a net revenue increase of $35 million every month. We were able to get this project from concept to launch in 10 weeks, which hopefully illustrates that the problem is not with the technology. This hugely successful implementation was the result of long-term strategy and investment. AI isn’t cheap. The technology can be, but the people who are able to operate it effectively are hugely expensive.
Not to bury the lede, but this is why AI is hurting your customer experience. Proper implementation requires an investment in people, the kind of long-term investment very few companies are making. If you can get the people inside your organization to operate this technology in ways that are useful to employees and the organization at-large, you are on the road to real ROI.
There are already people in most organizations that are using AI—probably in the form of ChatGPT or another LLM—to make aspects of their job easier. There’s a whole other discussion to be had about how critical it is for orgs to have a plan in place for LLMs now that they are widely available, but the bottom line is that it’s a good thing if your employees are finding ways to use this technology proactively. These are the kinds of people who can help you get your footing with the experience-driven integration of AI.
Business leaders need to embrace this technology, and more importantly, the right people, as a long-term investment, not a shortcut to short-term profitability. Business leaders should be encouraging employees to find opportunities to automate the tedious processes they understand best. Business leaders should be looking for open and flexible orchestration platforms that let their team members co-create automations of the tasks they understand best. Not only will this foster a shared internal vision for how this technology can be applied, it will lead to people liking their jobs more.
Most often, the road to game-changing automated customer experiences runs right through game-changing automated employee experiences. Companies need to invest in the tools, but they need to invest even more heavily in finding the right people to put them to use. This puts them in position to deliver customer experiences that use AI in ways that have already been vetted internally, by a growing group of people with a growing awareness of the ways these new technologies can provide real value.