Companies spend over £40bn per year on NOT answering customer questions
Forbes Magazine recently reported that there are 270 billion customer-service calls every year in the US …and fully one-half of these go unresolved. Failure, of course, is no cheaper than success. £80bn per year is spent on call centre labour and software, plus a whole heap more on property and telecoms. None of this even begins to take into account the loss of the revenue that companies likely experience as a result of delivering poor service and losing customers.
I’ve spent many years helping organisations to improve their customer service in the UK, and from what I’ve witnessed, the situation here is even worse.
But what is a “wang bang”, and what on earth has it got to do with customer service? Read on and all will be revealed.
Customers don’t want good service…
… they want exceptional service that solves their problem easily, adds value unexpectedly, and is even fun (see Figure 1 below).
Figure 1: Evolving Expectations of Customer Service
Every time a customer experiences your company’s service, they judge how well it solved their immediate problem, how much effort they had to put into it, whether they got anything extra out of it, and how much they enjoyed the experience.
That’s a lot of crucial touch points that you want to get right, but the majority of organisations just aren’t getting. Clearly something needs to change.
Bring on R2D2
Artificial Intelligences (AI) and robots are finally getting interesting. After decades of promise, the last few years have seen the advent of truly powerful technology. IBM have led the way.
In 1997, IBM supercomputer Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov, the best chess player in history in a six game tournament. Then 2011 IBM’s follow-up supercomputer dubbed Watson won an eagerly awaited showdown against the two greatest Jeopardy! champions of all time (Jeopardy! is an American TV game show renown for it’s fiendishly complex questions that requires a combination of logic, general knowledge, and metaphor).
The Jeopardy! win is particularly impressive because Watson had to learn to read, and then to reason, and to rhyme and a whole bunch of other tricks in order to compete. If you’ve never seen Jeopardy!, here’s the idea: three contestants are presented with the answer to a question, and must buzz in first to give the questions that yields that answer.
Here’s an example:
Answer: A 6-letter word that is a milder beverage that’s consumed immediately after a shot of hard liquor.
Pretty easy, huh? The question is, “What’s a chaser?”
But the questions get a lot harder. Here’s one that Watson got right during the televised final:
Answer: “A long, tiresome speech delivered by a frothy pie topping.”
Question: “What is meringue harangue?”
That answer wasn’t stored anywhere in Watson database. It got the answer (very quickly) because it swallowed an encyclopaedia (Wikipedia to be exact), and used what it had learnt about language, rhyme and inference to get to the right answer.
Artificial Intelligence could well be the answer
Having built a supercomputer that can communicate in natural language, and that can now speak and understand English through a recent hook-up with Nuance, it seems logical to take on improving customer experience through call centres next. IBM has already deployed Watson to call centres for USAA insurance, ANZ and their own Technical Support Services (TSS).
For TSS, Watson reduced the average call duration by two minutes, and also increased first-time fix rate and the proportion of issues that were resolved by phone instead of sending out a technician.
Gobbling the World’s knowledge
It’s not just that Watson can answer questions like a human. Because it reads terrifically fast, and never gets bored, or clocks-off, it can devour vast amounts of knowledge in its quest to answer your client’s problems. It can whizz through all of your company’s stored knowledge, as well as publically available information in moments to provide an answer (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Watson’s information diet
The implications are huge! Replacing costly and ineffective call centre staff with artificial intelligence could reap mega cost savings, as well as quality improvements. Not only could more queries be successfully resolved, and more quickly, but by recognizing contextual clues and using deep reserves of knowledge, AI could add value to callers by providing additional information, and perhaps even up-selling or cross-selling, becoming a salesman as well as a call centre agent.
For example, ANZ Bank, who are deploying Watson as an insurance adviser, say:
“Imagine if you could sit down with an adviser and, in the time it takes to make a cappuccino, Watson will pull up all of your accounts, read all the fine print, and tell you what kinds of insurance protection you’re missing or where you’re over-covered.”
Ok so it’s intelligent, but can it make customer service fun??
Perhaps not yet, but Watson does seem to have a sense of humour.
Watson didn’t get everything right on Jeopardy! In another rhyming test that the supercomputer bombed, the clue was:
“A boxing term for a hit below the belt.”
The correct phrase was “low blow,” but I think I prefer the eye-watering response that Watson shot back:
“A wang bang.”
“He invented that,” said IBM researcher David Gondek, noting that nowhere among the tens of millions of words and phrases that had been loaded into the computer’s memory did “wang bang” appear.
Better than a wang bang
I believe that it is highly likely that AI will play a key role in the future of customer service, and for the customers who currently make those 135bn calls that end in disappointment, that future will certainly be better than a wang bang!
If you want to find out more about how artificial intelligence is transforming customer service, drop me a line on [email protected]