New research from customer engagement solutions provider Waterfield Tech exploring the trends, challenges, aspirations and expectations around customer experience reveals that the broad adoption of conversational AI for CX has been crucially delayed—despite AI’s potential to have a demonstrable positive impact on business and customer satisfaction metrics.
The findings seem to diverge from other recent reports on AI adoption, such as recent research from Gartner that found 91.5 percent of leading businesses invest in AI on an ongoing basis: only 14 percent of Waterfield’s respondents say they’ve implemented conversational AI specifically, which includes natural language processing—the ability of machines to understand what people are saying (e.g., virtual assistants such as Siri or Alexa) and respond appropriately. These new findings come as Gartner anticipates a 25 percent increase in 2023 customer satisfaction scores among organizations that use AI.
“When it comes to technology for driving superior customer experiences, AI implementation is lagging—and the missed opportunities are significant,” said Steve Kezirian, CEO of Waterfield Tech, in a news release. “With AI, and specifically conversational AI, businesses can quickly and effectively address contact center staffing shortages and lower costs by enabling value-driven self-service that reduces the volume of human agent interactions. Conversational AI can deliver an exceptional customer experience while enabling companies to more efficiently deploy their human and financial capital.”
Additional findings from the research include:
The value of investing in the contact center
Respondents’ primary initiatives for improving the contact center in 2023 include:
- Improve overall contact center efficiency/flexibility (51 percent)
- Get better data/analytics from systems (48 percent)
- Only slightly more than a quarter (28 percent) of respondents mentioned “get smarter/better about workforce deployment.” But given the potential for economic headwinds and staffing shortages in 2023, this may become a heightened priority for contact center leaders in the months ahead.
SMS and web chat gaining traction
While most customer experience leaders continue to rely on traditional technologies like email and voice, SMS and Web chat are gaining traction. When asked about the technologies used in their contact centers, respondents said:
- 87 percent are using email
- 80 percent are using voice (Voice is the top option in financial services and telecommunications/utilities, with 93 percent and nearly 86 percent of respondents, respectively, saying they use this technology in their contact center)
- 57 percent are using SMS
- 48 percent are using Web chat
People who need “people”
Despite a minority (28 percent) of customer experience leaders deploying virtual agents, they recognize the benefits of this human-centric approach to the contact center experience. These leaders report looking to virtual agents to not only improve their business outcomes but to create a more emotional connection with customers. When asked, “What is the most important task a virtual agent can accomplish for your business?” the top four responses were:
- Answer simple questions (e.g., “Resolving the FAQ to take this communication off staff responsibility”)
- Fun/Make customers happy and satisfied (e.g., “Make the customer happy”)
- Customer service/retention (e.g., “Solve problems while discovering opportunities”)
- Handle more volume/speed (e.g,. “Handle more inquiries at once”)
- Financial services: Respondents reported the top two initiatives for improving the contact center in 2023 were overall efficiency and introducing new channels: 72 percent of respondents say they’re developing a strategy or getting started with regards to AI. And, 50 percent indicated they “need to develop a strategy.” However, none of the respondents reported having yet implemented AI.
- Telecommunications: 69 percent of respondents in the telecom industry believe conversational AI will have a major impact on customer service in the future, but 65 percent have not yet begun or are in the early stages of adoption.
The contact center crystal ball
When asked what the future holds for the modern contact center, respondents noted:
- 50 percent say conversational AI is the most important technology of the future
- 23 percent are exploring the metaverse/Web 3.0
“It’s clear customer experience professionals not only desire, but require, the ability to address contact center effectiveness, workforce issues and business performance—and they realize conversational AI is an essential technology to help them get there. They now need to take the next step to reap the benefits,” Kezirian said.
In fall 2022, Waterfield Tech conducted an email survey of 118 senior leaders in roles including customer experience and technology across a variety of industries, such as telecommunications, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, travel, utilities and others.