Predictions 2018: How Chatbots, AI Will Lead CX to New Heights

The IT consumer experience is becoming a big, "friendly" business. You will "friend" companies online and talk to them as though they are your personal acquaintences.

We all know buzz phrases such as “digital transformation, “paradigm shift,” “market disruption” and others.

You also know buzz acronyms--or, if you will, “buzznyms.” These include B2B, M&A, ASAP, FYI, LOL and so on.

CX, standing for “customer experience,” is a recent one. It sometimes goes by UX (user experience). This is our topic for today.

CX is becoming big business. It’s all about making IT work to satisfy customers. For example, big-name companies such as Adobe and Oracle have complete customer experience platforms upon which they sell goods and services.  

Customer Experience Software is Huge Business

Last March, Adobe launched its Experience Cloud, upon which market and sales professionals can offer a number of content-creation, digital marketing, advertising and campaign-building services in a centrally managed cloud platform. In this way, content creators can use one suite of tools to design documents for various types of deployments (web advertising, email, broadcast, video), create marketing campaigns across those channels, turn dials on all the controls, then collect analytics data on everything that happens in order to determine the level of success it renders.

A month later, Oracle responded with its Oracle Content and Experience Cloud, a so-called “digital experience” platform that enables organizations to manage and deliver content to any digital channel in order to initiate engagements with customers, partners and employees.

The cloud-based content hub allows organizations to create and distribute content in a meaningful way to improve brand engagement and customer growth and retention. Chatbots are playing a big role in all of this; their influence will become even greater in 2018.

CX vendors include Appirio, Zendesk, IBM Tealeaf, Satmetrix, ResponseTek, Clarabridge, Medallia, Qualtrics, Rant & Rave, Root and others.

Here are some prognostications for 2018 as offered by thought leaders in CX.

Anand Janefalkar, CEO and Founder of UJET:

  • Focus on customer support will become more important to brands. “Today’s consumers, most notably the millennial generation, want instant connection and results, whether it be when they’re ordering food, texting a friend or speaking with a customer support agent. In order to meet these demands (and keep negative reviews at bay) companies will make maintaining brand loyalty a focal point of their business. As a result, we will see customer support focus starting to bleed into several parts of the business, like product, marketing and UX.”
  • The landscape of customer-brand relationships keeps changing. “Social platforms give customers the opportunity to amplify great experiences with brands. On the flip side, it also provides them with a powerful platform to share bad experiences, voice grievances, and impact how others view products and brands. Consumers have come to hold brands to higher standards - more accessible, faster response times, available through multiple channels - and these shifting power dynamics mean that companies need to be more sensitive than ever to providing customers with great customer experiences.” 
  • Omnichannel will be the real breakthrough technology. “While AI and chatbots are regarded as some of the hottest technology to enter the customer support space, omnichannel will be the real game-changer. The omnichannel experience will prove to be even more valuable as support teams can drive rapid resolution by seamlessly switching between voice, chat, video and screen-sharing with annotations. Additionally, assisted AI where companies find the balance between bots, machine learning and agents, will start showing significant efficiencies.”

Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid Technologies: There will be increased use of AI and automation in ITSM.
“The biggest step change in 2018 is likely to be a huge increase in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation in all areas of IT service management. Automation offers many opportunities to deliver more value, with better customer experience and lower costs. Some examples of this include:

  • "Chatbots to reduce the need for agents to deal with routine enquiries, and to ensure that when incidents and requests do need a person to intervene, they get directed to the right agent.
  • "Automated matching ofincidents to known problems and of requests to workflows to improve access to existing knowledge allowing people to make better use of it.
  • "Automated translation of chat and voice communication to enable service desks to support many additional languages.
  • "Increased automation of service requests to provide faster and more reliable service with little or no human intervention.
  • "Automated analysis of all incident and problem records to help identify areas in need of investigation, and to provide the data needed for understanding and resolving underlying problems."

Lahav:  We’ll see more focus on value and customer experience.
“Traditionally, IT service management has focused on efficiency (reducing effort and cost) and on delivering services to meet the targets laid out in service level agreements (SLAs). Many IT departments have now realized that this is not enough. They have started to focus on ways of increasing their value to the overall organization and of delivering a great experience to their users.

“During 2018 this message will spread as many IT organizations move away from traditional SLAs toward a value driven approach. Organizations that do move in this direction will be rewarded by much higher levels of user satisfaction at a lower cost, which will, in turn, promote an even greater focus on providing value. This virtuous-circle will enable such organizations to accelerate ahead of competitors who stick to more traditional approaches.”

Lahav: More enterprise service management is on the way.
“It’s not just IT departments and organizations that need to manage incidents and requests. This means that the tools, processes and organizational design we use to support IT could also do a great job of providing support to many other areas of the business.

“We’ve already started to see a move toward enterprise service management (ESM), where organizations adopt a consistent approach to delivering services across the business. Tools and processes that were originally developed to provide IT support are being used to support legal, HR, facilities and other internal departments within the enterprise. In some cases, one service desk provides all the services to everyone who needs them; in others, the work is still being carried out independently.”

Robert Weideman, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise Division, Nuance Communications: Your voice will be your password.
“2017 was a record year for hacks of personal customer details. These breaches give fraudsters access to our identities including the answers to those annoying security questions. One thing the fraudsters can’t do much with? Voice data. And that is why banks and telcos are increasingly replacing security questions with biometrics. With a few words of speech, voice biometrics can confirm you are who you say you are at accuracy and security levels better than pins, passwords and security questions. And it knows how to detect recordings from real, live speech--rendering the data useless to fraudsters in the case of a breach.”

Weideman: You will use a virtual assistant (VA) for customer service, and it will work.
“Conversational AI breakthroughs have led to a new generation of VAs specific to your bank, your telco and your pizza ordering, all providing personalized, concierge-like service. In 2018, this generation of VAs will be made even more effective, through technology called HAVA (Human Assisted Virtual Assistant). HAVA adds a human-in-the-loop capability, first to help answer new questions the VA may not know, but more importantly to provide a learning loop that updates the VA’s “brain” in real time.”

Weideman: You will add a brand as your messaging “Friend”–and you will mean it.
“In 2017, Facebook Messenger, Line, Kik and more added capabilities for their users to 'friend' organizations and companies, and late in the year, Apple announced Apple Business Chat, which will do the same for Apple Messages. In 2018 you will start engaging brands in the same way you talk to friends–in your messaging app, through SMS and even inside your banking and telco apps. And AI will allow each brands’ VA engine to respond to you in a personalized way, referencing past engagements you have had across other channels.”

Weideman: Prediction will let brands anticipate your needs.
“Customer service creates a ton of data. In 2018 this data will be harnessed more than ever to fuel new AI engines. Predictive customer service will let brands anticipate what you need or may do, before you even know, by analyzing and detecting the patterns of billions of customer engagements over time.” 

Weideman: The “800” number will enter early retirement.
“Digital customer engagement combined with mobile devices, tablets and data lines will lead to less calls. A lot less. In 2018 you will engage with a virtual assistant and if they can’t resolve an issue, you will be seamlessly texting with a live contact center agent. If the issue is really complicated and can’t be resolved through messaging, you still won’t call the 800 number. In 2018, that step will be integrated through advanced technologies like WebRTC and IVR-to-digital, allowing the contact center agent to connect with you by voice or video within the app, on your laptop, even through your TV screen or smart speaker.”

Kevin Leahy, Group SVP, Data Centre Business Unit, Dimension Data:  

  • “The gaps between organizations leading the transformation of their customer experience and those that have fallen behind will begin to get wider.”
  • “Mastering the omnichannel experience will continue to be an ongoing battle, and disruptive innovators will set the standard.”
  • “2018 will see the rise of proactive customer experience – powered by the Internet of Things (IoT).”
  • “Machines will become partners, rather than tools, for agents.”
  • “Location-based mobile customer communication will drive competitive advantage.”
Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...