AI has been a part of pop culture for generations (enter: The Terminator), but the recent developments of ChatGPT and AI-powered bots have breathed new life into the conversation surrounding its role in business. Company leaders and consumers now understand more about the benefits of AI in customer service and how it can make our lives easier.
How can AI help customer service? According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023, many customers who use Zendesk AI see 30 percent faster resolution times, and businesses that use Zendesk bots saw CSAT improve by two percentage points year over year. Read on to learn how your business can make the most of AI in customer service.
How AI can improve customer service
As technology continues to evolve, we’re seeing new ways that AI can enhance the customer experience. Here are some examples of how to use AI in customer service for your business.
1. Improve agent efficiency and productivity
AI can boost agent productivity and efficiency with tools and automations that simplify workflows. Chatbots for business can handle simple requests, while automated processes eliminate time-consuming, repetitive tasks. This reduces your team’s workload and frees your agents to address high-value tasks and complex customer issues.
AI can even analyze a customer interaction and understand the customer’s sentiment and intent. This allows the bot to identify positive, negative, and neutral language so it can route tickets to an agent accurately if a handoff is necessary and reduce escalations due to sentiment detection. When routing to a human agent, the sentiment gets included in the conversation. This lets the agent know how to approach the interaction, preparing them to avoid an escalation or de-escalate an elevated situation.
71% of consumers say AI should be able to understand and respond to their emotions and feelings during customer service interactions.
Zendesk, for example, offers a wealth of AI-powered productivity tools that help make agents’ jobs easier. These tools include:
- Advanced bots can greet customers on your website or messaging channels as a friendly first line of support and answer common questions, saving your agents time. They come pre-trained to understand top customer issues specific to your industry and can identify intent, language, and sentiment. Zendesk offers a bot builder, allowing you to write answers for your chatbot and create a more conversational experience.
- Intelligent triage that uses AI to automatically analyze the customer request and determine the intent, sentiment, and language. Based on that information, it routes the request to the agent best suited to handle it, along with the customer context.
- Intelligence in the context panel, which is an AI-powered assistant in the Agent Workspace that provides insights and guidance on how to resolve an issue. It displays customer intent, sentiment, and language and suggests the next course of action (like relevant responses)—helping the agent resolve issues faster.
- Content Cues, an AI-powered feature that identifies gaps in knowledge base content based on trending topics and flags existing content that needs improvement. This makes it easier to keep self-service resources relevant and up to date.
Rhythm Energy, a renewable energy company, uses bots to respond to customers quickly and reduce escalations to the support team. With Zendesk AI, Rhythm Energy deflected 46% more tickets and reduced escalations by 50%.
Example scenario: A customer sends a message via Facebook Messenger for business, asking, “Where is my order? It was supposed to be delivered yesterday.” The AI can understand that the sentiment is negative and the customer is angry based on their tone. As a result, it automatically triages the ticket to the right agent, helping the business avoid further escalations.
2. Make proactive recommendations to customers
With access to the right data and customer context, bots can proactively make personalized recommendations based on a customer’s preferences, website behavior, previous conversations, and more.
According to Lauren Hakim, a product marketer at Zendesk, proactive engagement is one of the most effective uses for AI-powered chatbots.
“Bots can help you get ahead of customer asks by reaching out with meaningful, timely, and personalized interactions that drive engagement and retention and increase sales and conversion rates.”Lauren Hakim, product marketer at Zendesk
For example, AI can be an effective tool to prevent customers from abandoning their shopping carts. Customers may have additional questions about a product, encounter issues with shipping costs, or not fully understand the checkout process. AI can automate workflows to help close sales with chatbots that offer discounts, send reminders to the customer to complete the purchase, or proactively reach out to see if they have any questions.
Example scenario: AI recognizes that a specific website visitor often adds merchandise to their shopping cart before abandoning. A bot sends a proactive message to the visitor with a discount code to facilitate the purchase.
3. Provide customers with 24/7 service
Deploying AI-powered chatbots allows customer service teams to deliver convenient, 24/7 support. This means customers can connect with your business any time—day or night—and get help in real time, even when support agents are offline.
Chatbots, like Zendesk bots, are available around the clock. They can answer general questions or offer self-service resources—like help center articles—so customers can find answers or complete simple tasks. As businesses scale toward global markets, always-on support is crucial to maintain an excellent customer experience.
To provide 24/7 support, Photobucket uses Zendesk bots, which answer frequently asked questions and hand off conversations to a live agent when appropriate. Since implementing Zendesk, Photobucket has improved its first resolution time by 17%, increased its first reply time by 14%, and gained a three percent increase in CSAT.
Example scenario: A customer reaches out at 3:00 am Pacific Time for support. They are immediately greeted by a chatbot, which asks a series of questions. The bot captures the customer’s information and opens an asynchronous ticket by email. The bot also offers a relevant help center article while the support team works on the request.
4. Deliver personalized support
According to our CX Trends Report, 59 percent of customers expect businesses to use the data they collect to personalize their experiences. AI can leverage that customer data to deliver personalized support in the following ways:
- Offering assistance to customers based on previous behaviors or inquiries
- Keeping customers updated and informed about new, relevant products and services based on purchase history
- Sending relevant discounts based on what items are saved in a customer’s cart
- Serving customers in their preferred language
60% of consumers say they can recognize personalized recommendations and find them valuable.
Is it possible for customers and bots to engage in rich, personalized conversations? Zendesk AI is built on customer intent models that are specific to customer service. This means you can configure bots to provide an immersive customer experience—and even convey empathy in a genuine, conversational way.
Example scenario: AI automates a friendly message that wishes a customer a happy birthday and includes a 50 percent discount code. AI can send this on the customer’s preferred messaging channel, address them by the correct pronouns, and recommend products based on their purchase history.
5. Gather consumer insights
Using AI in customer service allows customer service teams to gather consumer insights. With Zendesk, for example, intelligence in the context panel comes equipped with AI-powered insights that gives agents access to customer intent, language, and sentiment so they know how to approach an interaction. All the relevant data gets stored in a unified workspace, so agents don’t have to toggle between apps to get the info they need.
AI helps navigate the agent through the interaction, offering the most relevant responses for the agent to use based on customer insights and context.
Agents can choose to automate the reply, saving themselves time. Intelligence in the context panel can help take the pressure off of agents by reducing manual tasks during peak times.
Example scenario: A customer’s order got lost in the mail, so the customer reaches out to the company via live chat. AI can display a prompt to the agent, suggesting a refund or replacement for the missing product.
6. Create powerful intelligent workflows
Transferring customers to different departments and reps doesn’t make for a great customer experience. With AI, you can create powerful intelligent workflows that provide faster support for customers and create more efficient agents. This eliminates wait times as customers get intelligently routed to the agent best suited for the task.
With Zendesk, support teams can use AI to route requests to the right person based on:
- Customer intent, sentiment, and language
- Agent capacity
- Agent status
- Agent skill set
Example scenario: A customer calls in because they were charged a different price than they expected for a service add-on. AI understands the customer’s angry tone, that the customer speaks Spanish, and captures the customer’s account type and billing information. The AI finds an available senior-level agent, who handles billing discrepancies and speaks Spanish, and completes the handoff, complete with customer context.
7. Offer multilingual support
Conversational AI technology uses natural language understanding (NLU) to detect a customer’s native language and automatically translate the conversation; AI enhances multilingual support capabilities.
Because the translation can happen immediately (and without involving a human translator), the customer can experience more convenient and efficient support.
Pairing multilingual support automation software with your customer service solution gives the AI access to customer information that adds personalization to the conversation. This includes data like the customer’s location, the device they’re using, buying preferences, conversation history, and more.
Example scenario: A bot automatically detects the customer’s language based on their location and the text in the chat window.
8. Assist with agent onboarding and training
When agents join a new customer service team, there’s a lot for them to learn. With Zendesk AI, every customer service agent gets a virtual assistant, making it easier to onboard new hires and train agents. Advanced AI helps agents get up to speed and improve their level of customer service by:
- Gradually increasing the complexity of requests they handle with intelligent routing
- Suggesting the next course of action to take in a given scenario
With Zendesk, Rhythm Energy was able to spend less time training new agents while maintaining the same level of high-quality customer service.
“Zendesk is easy to teach because everything’s automated,” says Brandon Cancino, customer care manager at Rhythm Energy. “We can take an agent with zero knowledge right off the training floor and have them assisting customers like a tenured agent.”
Example scenario: A newly hired agent who recently completed training is still getting comfortable handling live customer service requests. A bot lends the agent a helping hand by offering relevant help center articles and suggested responses to customer inquiries to help the agent learn the ropes faster.
9. Save agents’ time by automatically identifying customer intent
Zendesk advanced bots come with pre-trained customer intent models that can address common, industry-specific customer issues based on customer service data. That means advanced bots can automatically identify customer intent and classify requests—like password resets or billing issues—and offer more personalized, accurate responses. The bots can then share the intent with agents for additional context.
These bots can be deployed on messaging and email channels to deflect customer questions and handle repetitive tasks—like troubleshooting or collecting feedback—so agents can focus on customer queries that require a human touch. Rather than spending hours manually configuring your chatbots, you can set up an advanced bot in a few simple clicks.
Example scenario: A customer sends an Instagram DM saying that their order was never delivered. An advanced bot automatically understands the intent based on the customer’s language and responds with an offer to send a replacement or issue a refund.
The benefits of using AI for customer service
According to our CX Trends Report, 72 percent of business leaders say expanding their use of AI and bots across the customer experience is an important priority over the next 12 months. As businesses invest resources in customer service AI, more benefits emerge. Here are some of the top benefits of AI for businesses.
- AI keeps costs low: AI tools like chatbots, intelligent triage, and workflow automation allow customer care teams to handle higher ticket volumes without increasing personnel. AI supplements the agent, boosting efficiency and productivity—and adding savings to your bottom line.
- AI delivers fast, consistent support: With AI, you can deliver instant support without involving an agent. If a customer handoff is needed, AI delivers key information and customer context and guides the agent with insights and suggested actions for faster resolutions.
- AI boosts customer satisfaction and customer retention: Businesses using Zendesk bots saw CSAT improve by two percentage points year over year, according to our CX Trends Report. Fast, convenient, and consistent service is key to gaining loyal customers that stick around.
- AI reduces agent burnout: AI takes care of tedious tasks, reducing the workload for support teams. When agents can focus their energy on tasks that match their skillset, it makes their job more fulfilling.
Examples of AI and automation in customer support
Some examples of AI and automation in customer support include chatbots, natural language processing (NLP), face and voice recognition, interactive voice response (IVR), and intelligent virtual assistants (IVAs).
AI technology is relatively new and will continue to evolve and improve. As technology advances, business leaders can use new and innovative AI-powered tools to enhance CX. Here are a few examples of AI and automation in customer support.
- Chatbots: A type of conversational AI that can understand customer inquiries and automate responses in a friendly way.
- Natural language processing (NLP): Machine learning technology that can comprehend and respond to voice commands and translate text.
- Face and voice recognition: Biometric AI that uses algorithms and math to detect and distinguish human facial features and voices for authentication purposes.
- Interactive voice response (IVR): Automated phone system tool that answers incoming calls, understands vocal replies, and offers options for next steps, like routing calls to the right agent or department.
- Intelligent virtual assistant (IVA): AI program that understands voice commands and completes tasks for customer support agents.
What are the challenges of AI in customer service?
Like any emerging technology, implementing AI in the workplace may come with unique challenges. Here are a few of the biggest obstacles to consider as you begin incorporating AI into your business. When choosing AI software, make sure to look for a solution that can help solve these challenges for your team.
The cost of implementing AI
Deploying and maintaining AI can be expensive–but it doesn’t have to be. Expenses will vary depending on the type of AI, its complexity, the size of your business, hardware, features, AI development teams and engineers, maintenance, training, and more.
With AI solutions like Zendesk, implementing AI can be cost effective. Zendesk AI can be deployed out-of-the-box, which means you don’t need large developer or IT budgets to deploy it.
Businesses should also consider the ROI of AI, in addition to the cost. Many teams see a high ROI thanks to savings from improved efficiency and productivity, balanced staffing, and consistent, high-quality customer experiences. With Advanced AI from Zendesk, you get numerous agent AI tools like AI bots with machine learning capabilities, intelligence in the context panel, suggested knowledge base articles, and Content Cues—that will help you see a fast time to value.
Training AI on specific models
In order to recognize patterns and accurately respond to customer questions, you must train AI systems on specific models. Training and configuring AI is often a time-consuming process, with hours of manual setup.
But advanced AI from Zendesk is pre-trained with customer intent models and can understand industry-specific issues—including retail, software, and financial services. This saves your business time and money, so you can start seeing benefits from day one in just a few clicks.
Long lead times to implementation
Implementing AI for customer service requires significant planning, testing, and refinement–which is why it’s so important to choose an AI solution that takes this work off your team’s plate. Without the right AI partner, implementing the technology can require a long lead time. This can leave your business in a holding pattern, as the process can take several months to complete.
However, with Zendesk, AI for customer service is accessible to anyone and sets up in minutes, not months. There’s no need for developers, data scientists, or a heavy IT lift, so your team can quickly deploy AI across your business and hit the ground running. It’s also intuitive for agents to use and available alongside all their tools in a centralized workspace.
Choosing AI: The smart decision for customer service
Welcome to the future of AI in customer service. Leveraging AI to boost customer happiness, enhance the employee experience, and simplify support can help your business grow and thrive. Investing in AI to improve customer service should be a no-brainer.