Will the dawn of the era of artificial intelligence (AI) herald a timely demise of the customer complaints department? While perhaps a tad optimistic, service providers know that when it comes to AI its potential is too huge to be measured. Despite the hype around its benefits, though, there remains much confusion about how to make AI work for both service providers and their customers. So what exactly is AI? And what makes it so important that service providers should start acting now to make it an integral part of their long-term strategy?
AI represents a force of differentiation that will enable service providers to more effectively drive value across the business – from network optimisation through to customer care. Already, we’re seeing the most forward thinking of these companies infusing AI across their operations, including AT&T, Telefonica, and SK Telecom.
AI is undoubtedly a key component for supporting current and future IT systems, platforms, and processes. A main end-goal of digital transformation is to create more streamlined and agile operations that can scale and respond to complex customer and business needs in near real time. AI can keep pace with these demands via new technology (driven by both machine- and deep-learning) that include analytics tools and automation to systematically respond, operate, and improve operational and business support systems.
With this in mind, AI can have a tremendously positive impact across the entire spectrum of operations. It can deliver advanced intelligence for data analytics while also making customer-facing operations and services more effective than ever before. AI technology can also extract data from one part of the business in order to feed others, benefiting from self-learning capabilities that make it possible to constantly improve over time.
By injecting this level of intelligence across multiple areas of the business, AI can create cross-domain value. Key areas where AI can impact operations include intelligence-driven product creation by taking advantage of customer behavior and engagement data. This, in turn, can lead to optimal pricing models as offerings can be based on a deeper learning of the competition via available data, such as advertising, voice of the customer-style feedback, and even BSS information.
Network optimisation, for the purpose of driving efficient and proactive routing of traffic, is another area where AI will have a big impact. Capacity could be managed effectively, network outages minimized, and faults bypassed. AI can also be used to optimise network configurations according to capacity demands, the characteristics of traffic volumes, and user behavior.
AI also has a role to play in transforming the customer care and service environment. By harnessing intelligence and automation, it’ll be possible to anticipate customers’ needs and issues and proactively engage them at the right time, using the right channel. AI will also help in personalising engagement by harnessing machine learning to quickly address needs in unassisted channels; and empower agents in assisted channels to enable personalized treatment, thereby accelerating resolution and avoiding repeated complaint calls.
Look before you leap
The benefits are clear, but how quickly should service providers climb onto the AI bandwagon? Whether you’re striving to be first to market, or treading more cautiously to avoid the mistakes of others, the process of incorporating AI undoubtedly involves risk. The most pragmatic approach, therefore, is a balanced one, which depends on building a carefully formulated AI roadmap in order to maximise the potential opportunities while minimising potential downsides.
Step one is assessment: what value will AI technology add? By assessing skill availability within the business, it’s possible to not only understand what data is available but, more importantly, what subset of it is useful. Using this information to create an AI strategy and timeline, and planning for which low-hanging-fruit AI applications will deliver immediate benefits to, is essential.
The second stand is building: deciding whether AI systems will be built using in-house resources, external suppliers, or a combination of both. While going it alone is a valid option, if AI is not your core business you risk a bad investment if you’re not fully in-sync with AI’s rapid evolution.
Thirdly, we need management: support needs to emanate from the highest levels of the organisation, all the way to the CEO, as the incorporation of AI also involves cultural challenges that must be dealt with. No less important is creating bottom-up acceptance, which may involve hiring specialists. A change management AI steering committee is a worthwhile investment to oversee this process, ensuring the standard of internal expertise is maintained and continually assessing opportunities in the market.
With AI prominently perched at the cutting edge of technology, we still don’t know how far it will go in shaping the industry and the lives of consumers. But for service providers seeking to achieve long-term differentiation, it certainly provides the means to leverage the data they hold to offer their customers unique experiences unlike any they had before.
If they start moving now, and incorporate a well-planned strategy, AI can be the golden egg that re-establishes service providers’ authority at the top of this ever-evolving industry.