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December 04, 2018
Customer Service: How businesses of all sizes can leverage AI to delight their customers and improve engagement
By: Jodie Wallis

The AI Effect is a podcast series exploring Canada’s burgeoning artificial intelligence ecosystem. Accenture’s AI leader co-hosts with reporter Amber Mac to look at AI’s explosive growth and the change—challenges and rewards—it can bring for individuals, business and society.

We wondered: How can startups and small businesses leverage AI to deliver customer service? How can consumer businesses of all sizes compete with the resources of tech giants such as Amazon, Netflix or Apple who have invested significantly in this area?

In Episode 6 we found out. Machine learning can help any businesses engage with and serve their customers with insight, consistency and even delight.

In one example, Heyday.ai in Montreal uses artificial intelligence to help businesses connect with their customers on a personal level. From research support to lead qualification and triage, Heyday’s solution engages directly with customers, but also escalates to a human expert when the question becomes too complex or personal and even supports the agents so they can do their jobs better.

Co-founder and chief product officer Étienne Mérineau told us it’s like giving superpowers to your sales and customer service teams. But he cautions businesses to be very focused in their implementation approaches rather than trying to solve everything at once.

To be successful, solutions like Mérineau’s need great data. And one of the ways to get great data is to unleash the virtual agents into the wild, collect that data, learn from it and iterate.

It seems we have a bit of a chicken and egg situation!

Finding the ideal places to apply AI takes imagination, says David Lennie, former senior vice president of data science and engineering at Shopify. The commerce platform company starts by imagining a business has a bucket full of dollars and minutes to build and expand—and it’s leaking. It’s losing dollars and minutes at all the points where the business makes decisions.

Shopify has set out to identify those leaks and either plug them or figure out ways to replenish the lost time and dollars faster than they are being lost, Lennie says. AI, and in particular, machine learning, is a huge game changer for entrepreneurs and small business owners, he adds.

One example is order fraud prevention. The commerce platform’s machine learning algorithms have been tuned to detect potential order fraud and alert the merchants proactively. Another is marketing optimization. Shopify is starting to use machine learning to make recommendations for the best marketing tools and channels.

Through six episodes (and in the seventh even more so) it’s becoming clear that customer expectations are starting to shape how AI is used in delivering services. And these expectations, influenced by technology natives such as Amazon, Netflix and Apple, will continue to rise as customers become increasingly aware of how their data signature is leveraged in the world. If customers are going to offer their data to service providers there will need to be clear and obvious value for them in return.

This is creating another form of commerce, as Lennie explains, where as a consumer you have to give data to get excellent service—and as a business you have to provide excellent service to warrant customers’ willingness to continue to engage. More and more, AI will become key to providing the services customers expect now and in the future.


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