Article
6 minute read 19 October 2021

Supercharging customer service with AI

Reimagining AI strategies to unlock a true end-to-end customer experience

6 minute read 19 October 2021
Andy Haas

Andy Haas

United States

Michelle McGuire Christian

Michelle McGuire Christian

United States

Ravouth Keuky

Ravouth Keuky

France

Artificial intelligence can integrate two marketing tactics—getting the right offers to customers at the right time and delivering great post-sales service—to make the customer experience even better.

For every brand, helping customers make purchase decisions by delivering on their needs is a top priority. But that’s not as easy as it sounds. A surge in digital channels and hybrid online-offline journeys along with heightened customer expectations have complicated brands’ desire to create and deliver a dynamic experience that equips customers with the right information and incentives—when they need it most.

Deloitte surveyed 11,500 global consumers to better understand what information they found most helpful while making purchase decisions across a variety of product and service categories. Two tactics stood out: timely offers and knowledgeable customer service (figure 1). In fact, across eight sectors, respondents cited a “timely offer” most often, with “knowledgeable customer service” as the second-most helpful option in six categories. These two dimensions routinely outperformed customized recommendations, free trials and samples, no-hassle returns and cancelation policies, and augmented technology (such as virtual showrooms).

Building on that feedback, brand marketers and customer experience leaders should be asking: How can we get the best offer in front of our customers—when they need it most—and equip service agents with the right information to offer those customers a level of service that helps them make the best purchase decisions?

We believe the answer is to optimize artificial intelligence (AI) within the customer experience—achieving harmony between human tasks and machine capabilities.1

We believe the answer is to optimize artificial intelligence (AI) within the customer experience—achieving harmony between human tasks and machine capabilities.

Designing a dynamic customer experience

A dynamic experience for customers means delivering the assistance and information they need, whenever, wherever, and however they want it. One prong of this is the utilization of AI that has enabled brands to deliver more personalized and creative marketing material and helped predict customer behavior. Designing and deploying an AI strategy that assists customers in their moment of need may be the most effective way to ensure the right offers meet customers at any point in their customer journeys.

However, AI isn’t enough. For instance, a self-service chatbot without live service may convey to the customer that the company prioritizes cost savings over helpfulness. That’s where the human side of contact centers comes in.

Employing customer agents as part of a dynamic experience serves a twofold purpose for brands: It embeds humanity within their customer journey and creates an opportunity to expand the view of customer service beyond the point of sale. For instance, each customer interaction gives agents a captive audience to whom they can upsell. Our recent contact center survey found that more brands are viewing their contact centers as revenue generators rather than mere cost centers—and this is driving investment strategies for many businesses. In fact, the number of respondents who have revenue generation as their No. 1 strategic priority is projected to double over the next 24 months. (At the same time, cost reduction is expected to shrink by 32% over the same time period.)2

Promisingly, AI and contact center strategies don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

Where the two tactics meet

Often, brands use AI solutions to focus on a particular piece of customer service, such as using data to identify timely offers. However, when AI is embedded with purpose and planning into critical parts of the entire experience—producing timely offers and providing relevant insights to contact centers—it can create a more holistic customer service solution.

So, instead of treating AI and contact centers as siloed investments, each with its narrow purpose, marketers should aim to create a more integrated machine-human handoff to better serve customers and support employees.3 What does that look like?

Ideally, brands would use AI to embed data insights throughout the customer journey to produce the most relevant offers. For an extra layer of personalization, AI can serve as an “agent-assist”: When powered with human-centered design, AI can provide service representatives with relevant information as they serve customers to help the latter make the right decision.

Take a typical customer interaction from one global travel and hospitality company with a reputation for fantastic customer service.4 AI and integrated data immediately let the service agent know the customer’s travel itinerary, where they may have had trouble completing a booking on the site, what in-person experiences or outings they plan to attend during their travel, and—after addressing the customer’s issue—provide a cross-sell or upsell opportunity, if appropriate.

While this company may be considered an early adopter, it will not be alone for long. Results from the contact center study show that 79% of contact center leaders plan to invest in greater AI capabilities in the next two years.5

Consider VMware, a global business-to-business technology company. From providing more tailored recommendations to customers around timely security updates to better equipping customer call center employees with clearer guidance, AI is changing how VMware holistically delivers on the customer experience. And chief marketing officer (CMO) Carol Carpenter makes a point that “it’s meant to supplement our technical advisors and customer success folks, not replace them.”6

Connecting the dots

Implementing a dynamic end-to-end strategy necessitates a real understanding of your current customer experience, including the opportunities to improve it.

To begin, brands should have a clear picture of their customers—perhaps employing a customer data platform that can integrate the vast amounts of data collected from disparate sources.

Next, marketers should look at how they’re currently bringing data insights to life. And encouragingly, they don’t need to be data scientists to bring these capabilities to their organization. Between more enterprise software-as-a-service platforms embedding AI capabilities directly into the product suite and cloud-based machine learning capabilities offered by multiple vendors, marketers can think less about the technology and more about the strategic application of it to transform a customer journey.7

Australia-based travel and hospitality company Crown Resorts went through a similar transformation. CMO Nic Emery started with mapping out the customer journey and understanding what points make the biggest differences in the customer experience—and part of that was helping ensure the right technology was in place to provide great personalization at scale. Emery describes the process as starting with putting the data in one place and overlaying it with a cloud-based customer relationship management system to “feed the critical parts of interactions our front-of-house staff needs today.” By doing so, Crown Resorts is uncovering “small windows,” such as acknowledging a loyal customer’s birthday when visiting any of their properties, that “will make quite a big difference to the experience customers will have.”8

To better appreciate the customer experience—and its potential deficits—consider these three key tasks:

  • Understand the experience strategy: Identify each channel and touch point along the customer journey.
  • Make sure they’re connected: The channels and touch points should create a congruent experience for customers.
  • Design with human-centered factors at the forefront: Consider the entire service experience, including the customer, talent, and third-party service providers.

Bill Beck, CMO of the health insurance company Anthem, explains how Anthem is embedding AI in all of its channels, from digital self-service tools to call centers: “We are using AI to understand why a member is potentially calling us—and how we can provide service for them when they call. For example, if it’s a benefits question, we can get ahead of it before they call, so that we can quickly take care of them.”9 This also provides time for its associates to serve members in more proactive ways, such as promoting nutrition plans to individuals who may be at higher risk for diabetes.

Ultimately, AI tools are available to help marketers and customer service leaders create an end-to-end customer experience that seamlessly blends AI and human service—to better serve customers and the bottom line.

About the research

The Global Marketing Trends Executive Survey polled 1,099 C-suite executives from global companies located in the United States, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands in April 2021. This survey asked chief executive, marketing, information, finance, operating, legal, and human resource officers their thoughts on a variety of topics driving the evolution of the marketing function.

The Global Marketing Trends Consumer Survey polled 11,500 global consumers, ages 18 and above, in May 2021 across 19 countries.

See the introduction to learn more about both studies.

  1. Jim Guszcza and Jeff Schwartz, Superminds, not substitutes: Designing human-machine collaboration for a better future of work , Deloitte Insights, July 31, 2020.View in Article
  2. Deloitte Digital, Elevating customer service: From cost center to experience hub , July 2021.View in Article
  3. Guszcza and Schwartz, Superminds, not substitutes .View in Article
  4. Insights from Deloitte client work.View in Article
  5. Deloitte Digital, Elevating customer service .View in Article
  6. Sourced from Deloitte interviews conducted between May and August of 2021 as part of the research for the 2022 Global Marketing Trends .View in Article
  7. Alex Kelleher, Better together: Improving human experience with AI , Deloitte Digital 2020, accessed September 2, 2021.View in Article
  8. Deloitte Global Marketing Trends interviews.View in Article
  9. Ibid.View in Article

The authors would like to thank Klaus Nadler (Germany) for his contributions to the development of this trend.

Cover artwork by: Tank Design

Deloitte Digital

Digital technology has changed the face of business. Across the globe, Deloitte Digital helps clients see what’s possible, identify what’s valuable, and deliver on it by combining creative and digital capabilities with advertising agency prowess, and the technical experience, deep business strategy, and relationships of the world’s largest consultancy. Deloitte Digital empowers businesses with the insights, platforms, and behaviors needed to continuously and rapidly evolve to perform beyond expectations. 

Jennifer Veenstra

Jennifer Veenstra

Managing Director | Deloitte Consulting LLP

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