Over the past year you’ve probably heard the word “autonomous” in the context of self-driving vehicles. Self-driving and guided by artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles have the potential to improve transportation safety and accessibility. What was once a futuristic concept is quickly becoming reality, thanks to the evolution of engineering and machine learning technology.
Customer service technology is also evolving. Just as artificial intelligence is supplanting drivers in autonomous vehicles, AI and automation are enabling the next generation of autonomous service that is smart, automated, preemptive, journey-oriented, and effectively puts the customer in the driver’s seat.
Autonomous customer service is the next evolution of self-service
Just over a decade ago, live agents were the only real option for customer service. Customers would pick up the phone or go into a branch or store with a problem or question. The agent would do the work required to resolve the inquiry. Fast forward a few more years and we saw that the surface area of customer service changed. With the emergence of new technologies such as web chat, social media, advanced IVR technology, and mobile, customer service became “assisted.” This meant that you no longer needed one agent for one customer – agents could now handle multiple interactions concurrently. This was more cost-effective for the business, and it was often closer to where your customer was on your digital touchpoints.
CRM software further expanded the channels through which a customer could reach a business and made it easier to view a customer’s historical data. This made web self-service possible, empowering customers to complete simple tasks, like checking a balance, paying a bill, or changing an address, without needing to speak with an agent. Although, agents were still needed to resolve most other issues. Similarly, automated chatbots gave business more flexibility to manage multiple customer inquiries simultaneously, but complex conversations and inquiries were transferred to an agent for resolution.
If we look at where we are today, an entirely new category of autonomous service is now emerging. Autonomous customer service builds on assisted service and self-service but goes further with a smarter and more dynamic approach to providing the same level of service via non-traditional channels as a customer would receive by engaging with an agent directly. Leveraging AI-powered, proactive, and preemptive service and contextual self-service, autonomous service automates the resolution of a customer inquiry without the expense and necessity of a live agent – a win-win for both parties.
In the not-so-distant future, an example of autonomous service could involve speaking to a smart device like Alexa and saying: “I lost my bank card and need a new one.” Alexa will contact the bank and the bank automates the steps to record the request, verify the customer, and issue a new card. No human intervention is needed to complete the transaction.
In the same manner, a website or mobile app that instantly recognizes you will anticipate your problem or question and suggest a related action. On an insurance website you might be greeted with the message: “We noticed you recently submitted a claim. Would you like to check your status?”
In both examples, the actions happen because the system recognizes the customer, understands and anticipates their needs, and orchestrates the back-end processes to deliver on that need.
Autonomous service focuses on the customer journey
Unlike traditional self-service that was often channel-specific and product-centered, next-generation autonomous service is instead enabled by machine learning and built centrally around a customer’s journey. Differing from self-service where the customer often needed to search for their own answers and sometimes needed to call into a live agent, autonomous service offers contextual answers that understand history and context. This journey-centric strategy is a shift away from older, channel-first strategies and is a more holistic approach to service – one that takes into consideration all the actions needed to resolve the inquiry or respond to a need from start to finish. It’s a new mindset to servicing customers but a natural progression, given the advances in digital technology, analytical modeling, automation, and AI.
Autonomous service also brings promise to a new era. One in which customer service can finally move beyond reactive service experiences – where the customer needs to take action after something goes wrong – to a new generation of proactive experiences. In this new generation, you can use data analytics, event and pattern detection, and real-time decisioning to sense a problem and reach out before your customer even recognizes there is a problem.
The future of customer service is already evolving to become preemptive – essentially using AI and predictive modeling to avoid a customer problem altogether. Businesses are looking out for their customers and driving down costs – a super win-win. Autonomous service represents the next level of service that, at the bottom-line, leads to rapid resolutions, happier customers, and greater containment rates.
What businesses should do now to plan for autonomous services
If autonomous customer service seems far-fetched or out of reach, it’s not. We’re already seeing businesses use AI-based tech to augment agent actions. And similar to the way today’s autonomous cars still require a driver behind the wheel, you’ll see varying levels of customer service autonomy over the next one to five years. This type of blended approach will be necessary for more complex operations or work where businesses want the judgment and manual intervention of human agents. And as autonomous service continues to advance, the need for agents will never go away. Autonomous service will instead enable agents to better understand customer needs and demonstrate empathy across the customer journey.
To adapt to new, automated possibilities, customer-centric businesses like yours can take steps right now that will help you incorporate autonomous service into your operations. The first step is shifting your thinking from channel-led services to the centralized, journey-based approach I mention above. This also requires restructuring your business architecture to similarly work from the center out – with business rules, AI, and decisioning capabilities positioned at the center of your stack so you can connect to the data you need in real-time and carry each customer journey across all channels (both self-service and agent assisted).
One North American insurer that adopted this center-out architecture was quickly able to contain 80% of their highest volume inquiry (in this case, customer-specific claim status) using an Intelligent Virtual Assistant (IVA). The IVA was able to understand each customer journey, current context, and answer specific questions without the need of a live agent. By solving for the right problem – with a center-out business architecture – the insurer has facilitated truly customer-centric service.
Ultimately, the goal of autonomous customer service is to understand and anticipate each individual customer’s needs so you can connect with them in a way that makes it easy for them to be your customer – all while making your business more effective.
- Watch this PegaWorld iNspire video on “The Future of Customer Service” with industry expert Paul Greenberg.
- Download our whitepaper to learn how to supercharge your existing customer service with Pega case management.
- Discover how Pega Customer Service™ helps you reduce volume and personalize every interaction with intelligent tools.