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Better living through AI — How computers will improve the service experience

For consumers tired of endless hold times, long-snaking lines and difficulty getting customer service, help is on the way.

The often confusing, maddening connection to some of our favorite brands and services is about to improve substantially – driven by a pair of tech-powered developments poised to move into the consumer and B2B mainstream sooner than most people think.

The first is Artificial Intelligence (AI) – something that, for years, seemed to be the domain of Hollywood hype. Today, whether we know it or not, real learning software is in active use today in a wide variety of areas, ranging from cyber security to your Netflix app.

The second is the pending breakout of voice interfaces – true, interactive conversations that transcend today’s limited, one-command “look up” requests and actually produce customer-satisfying results.

For a lot of people who’ve had mixed results with early iterations of both of these technologies, it may be hard to believe that this future is actually burgeoning. For example, the last two movies Netflix recommended to you may have been duds, from your standpoint. Also, voice interfaces like Siri can sometimes seem completely hopeless, as the software often struggles to answer even the most elementary questions.

On the other hand, we are already benefiting from early customer experience technology. You arrive at the airport, and your arrival triggers a text with your gate. You arrive at your destination, and a text indicates your bag is on Carousel B and your Uber is at Door 2. But these are just the beginnings of a revolution in the customer experience.

Let’s take a look at an example of “here” – today’s experience; and “there” – tomorrow’s experience.

Some examples of today’s pain points:

1. You buy a pair of new shoes from your favorite website, and for the next three months, every time you open a browser, you get hit with an ad for the EXACT SAME shoes you JUST BOUGHT!

2. You are on your bank’s website, and you discover a Visa charge that appears incorrect. Seeking help, you call the bank’s 800 number and what happens? You are transferred from department to department, each time, having to give the same basic information: name, account number, security questions, nature of your problem. The person on the line can’t help you because it’s not their department, they switch you to someone else and yes, you have to start all over, AGAIN!

3. You ask Siri or Alexa, a multiple-part question: “Hey Siri, what time is Villanova playing tonight, and where?” The “where” confuses the voice agent, and it defaults back to Villanova’s full season schedule. You wasted more time using the voice agent than if you had simply looked up the time and place yourself.

What is tomorrow’s experience going to look like?

1. You buy a new pair of shoes, and miracle of miracles, the company actually knows you bought a pair. You can choose the level of communication you have with the company – offering feedback, asking for follow-up when a new color is introduced, but otherwise, keeping the din to a minimum. No more annoying banner ads, and only useful information, when the shoe comes out in your favorite color in two months.

2. You call your bank after first trying the website, and the agent recognizes you without qualifying you with security codes. Best of all, they know exactly what the nature of the problem is, and what you have done to resolve the problem to date. What a concept! It turns out your son made that charge and everything is OK. Problem solved.

3. Siri and Alexa become capable of understanding multiple questions and getting you the right answer. Not quite Star Trek (“Computer, what is the distance and arrival time to star system M254…….”), but getting better.

What does this technology mean for all of us? First, the issue of consumer privacy and choice for customers is a big one that needs to be better understood. But once that is worked out, this will be a huge leap in insightful interaction – understanding what customers want, providing choice and assistance at a time and in a way the customer wants, and most importantly, not bothering them with the equivalent of spam, with messaging that is not useful and unwanted.

The customer journey will change to a more seamless, helpful experience. Companies that learn how to do this will build loyalty and increase their business. They will be the preferred choice of consumers. Companies that do not adapt, and do it the old way with all the friction points for their customers, will not.

Done correctly, in a way that respects customers’ wishes, AI and Voice will be a useful way to meet customer needs, take time and stress out of customer interaction, and serve customers better than ever. And it’s a lot closer than we all think.

Gary Fassak is a partner and CMO at Chief Outsiders LLC. He can be reached at