Artificial Intelligence

Why AI is Needed to Meet Today's Consumer Expectations

By Tomas Gorny, CEO and Co-founder, Nextiva

As generative AI creates new possibilities across virtually all industries, one of the most pressing questions for businesses and their shareholders is how this technology will transform end-to-end customer experiences. Warnings are coming in that may discourage organizations from handing over too much customer interaction to AI right away. For example, a recent Forbes Advisor survey that found 75% of consumers fear artificial intelligence will give them misinformation. Most are also concerned about AI providing product descriptions or answering questions.

Such worries are legitimate. In a customer-centric era, AI adoption needs to be done carefully. But through my work at Nextiva, which focuses on connected conversations, I’m already seeing a major way in which businesses of all kinds need to adopt AI for customer experience as quickly as possible. It’s the only way they’ll be able to meet the rising expectations that today’s consumers have.

Ninety-three percent of customer service teams polled by Hubspot agree that customer expectations are higher than ever. This trend was accelerated by the pandemic, when more people turned to digital tools and delivery services. Consumers got used to interacting with brands across multiple platforms. Many have come to expect that anytime they reach out to a company, whoever responds will instantly know about them and their previous purchases, and be able to help them without a long delay.

With so much customer data coming in through so many different tools -- email, messaging, social media, apps, email, phone calls and more -- companies are overwhelmed with information. It includes both static data, which stays the same, and dynamic data, which keeps changing after it’s been collected. When a human customer experience agent happens to answer a customer’s call or receive a customer’s chat message, there's no way for the agent to instantly know all the necessary information.

With a unified customer engagement strategy, businesses can make sure that all communications channels come together into a single platform, so that every touchpoint with that consumer is recorded in a single place. Artificial intelligence can then continuously read through all that information and pull up what are most likely to be the important points for the agent to know, at a single glance.

That's just the beginning. Generative AI can also offer suggestions to the agent based on what thousands or even millions of other customers have been looking for. And the AI can keep learning, improving its system to do a better and better job.

It’s a perfect illustration of how organizations should approach AI for customer experience. The key is not to see AI as taking over customer engagement or single-handedly control the customer journey. Instead, AI’s role is to help humans deliver personalized experiences at scale. It’s not “men vs. machine,” it’s men and machines working together in harmony.

People are still significantly better at relationships, rapport, and connecting with people. Machines are significantly better at ingesting huge amounts of data to make predictions. Bringing the best of both together is essential to deliver better customer experience outcomes.

Crucial for investors

The opportunities presented by AI come at a pivotal time. Recent polls have shown bad news for the state of customer experiences. In a piece earlier this year for the Harvard Business Review, two researchers wrote that customer satisfaction is “now at its lowest level in nearly two decades.” And NPR reported that according to a survey, “Americans are more unhappy with the customer service they're getting than ever.”

Dissatisfied customers take a direct toll on businesses -- and their share values. While this is intuitive, it’s also calculable. A Rice University study analyzed 273 companies over a 10-year period, and found that customer satisfaction moves stock prices. In fact, "A one-unit increase in customer satisfaction is associated with a .56 percentage point increase in abnormal stock returns, while a one-unit increase in customer dissatisfaction is associated with a 1.34 percentage point decrease.”

So how can stockholders make sure that the companies they invest in are doing this right? In earnings calls, ask executives specifically about their unified customer engagement strategy, and how they’re building AI into it. Ask investor relations representatives what their organization’s data shows about how their customer experiences are lacking, and ask for the specific steps they’re taking to address these problems. Look for steady improvement each quarter.

The businesses that take advantage of the opportunity to use AI to improve customer experiences will see the greatest rewards -- in both satisfied customers and investor returns.

Tomas Gorny is co-founder and CEO of Nextiva.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.