Quick summary: Generative AI is enhancing customer portals and other self-service tools through advanced interactive capabilities.
Since the first version of ChatGPT brought generative AI to the forefront of public consciousness in late 2022, the GenAI revolution has been reshaping the landscape of business operations. Nowhere is this more evident than in reimagining the customer experience. In a recent Gartner poll, executives ranked customer experience No. 1 on their list of focus areas for generative AI investments—ahead of revenue growth, cost optimization, and business continuity.
The emphasis on personalization and self-service, across all channels, is of particular note. In Salesforce’s latest State of the Connected Customer survey, 61 percent of respondents expressed a preference for self-service options.
In a previous article, we explored how traditional/conversational AI expands the possibilities for meeting and exceeding customers’ self-service expectations. Today, we’ll delve into how generative AI is raising the bar in unique ways, offering businesses an opportunity to take their customer experience to new levels—with guardrails in place to ensure these technologies are implemented effectively and responsibly. Customers interact with businesses across a variety of channels; here we will focus on portals as they often represent a range of use cases, ripe for self-service capabilities.
In Salesforce’s latest State of the Connected Customer survey, 61 percent of respondents expressed a preference for self‑service options.
Generative AI vs. traditional AI: transforming customer experiences with advanced capabilities
In the developing landscape of customer service technology, understanding the differences between traditional and generative AI is key, especially in the context of self-service portals. GenAI’s unique advantages play a significant role in empowering businesses to enhance customer experiences and drive greater customer loyalty.
Generating meaningful responses: important context
Traditional AI-powered features in customer portals rely heavily on pre-programmed responses; such solutions are limited by our ability to define the possibilities. These pre-programmed responses, which represent structured data, enable AI to match the customer’s intent with the appropriate response. They are time intensive for the business and implementation teams to define, much like an FAQ document. This traditional approach, while effective for predictable queries, limits the scope of customer interactions to situations we can plan for.
In contrast, GenAI draws from both structured and unstructured data, increasing the AI’s understanding of intent and potential response options exponentially to address both the planned and the unplanned. This capability allows for more nuanced and contextually relevant interactions with customers, transcending the limitations of traditional, closed models.
Generative AI–powered customer experiences also benefit from the large language models (LLMs) that underlie GenAI’s language-related functions. Applications of traditional AI in customer service technology have relied on natural language processing (NLP), which was limited to basic speech recognition in the context of phone calls and other voice channels. LLMs enable the generation of text that is contextually relevant in addition to being linguistically coherent.
For example, imagine a customer reaching out via a chatbot regarding an issue with a product. Traditional NLP systems might recognize keywords like “problem” and “not working” and generate a standard response, such as “Please reset your device.” However, an LLM-driven chatbot would understand the context better. If the customer says, “I tried to reset my device following the instructions in the manual, but it still won’t start,” the LLM could generate a more nuanced response like, “I see you’ve already attempted a reset. Can you tell me if there were any error messages or lights during the process?” This response not only shows understanding, but also moves the conversation forward in a more constructive way, demonstrating LLMs’ superior ability to interpret and respond to the nuances of human communication.
Handling complex cases
Traditional AI is adept at handling simple to moderately complex situations, which suffices for straightforward customer queries such as checking the status of a shipment. GenAI brings an enhanced level of sophistication to customer portal interactions. Its improved context awareness and ability to analyze a broader spectrum of data enable it to handle more complex and varied customer interactions. The result is a more dynamic and responsive customer service experience, where the intricacies of each individual case can be successfully addressed.
While traditional AI can offer personalized responses within its pre-programmed limits, generative AI takes personalization a step further. GenAI can leverage its understanding of subtleties in customer data and behavior patterns to deliver highly personalized, relevant responses. Advanced analytical capabilities enable GenAI-powered tools to discern and adapt to the unique preferences and needs of each customer based on varied inputs from a broad range of data sources.
Enhancing customer interactions: GenAI in chatbots and IVR systems
Two of the most prominent areas where GenAI is redefining customer self-service are the enhanced conversational intelligence of virtual assistants, a.k.a. chatbots, and the evolved functionality of interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Both these applications demonstrate how GenAI is setting new standards in creating more human-like, context-aware, and personalized customer experiences, significantly advancing the quality and effectiveness of customer service interactions.
Chatbots: a new level of conversational intelligence
Large language models (LLMs) significantly enhance virtual assistants’ understanding of context in customer interactions and enable a more human-like conversational tone. Unlike their traditional counterparts, GenAI-powered chatbots can access and interpret an expansive array of data sources. This capability allows them to handle unique customer situations with unprecedented accuracy and relevance, providing responses that are not only accurate, but also contextually appropriate.
IVR systems: beyond scripted responses
Historically, IVR systems have a well-earned reputation as the channel customers love to hate. In one study, 61 percent of customers affirmed that IVR negatively affects their service experience. Fortunately, generative AI is transforming these systems from rigid, script-based monoliths into dynamic tools for customer engagement in several ways:
- Natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities within LLMs allow IVR systems to better comprehend callers’ accents, dialects, and word choices to better direct them to the appropriate resources.
- GenAI enables IVR systems to provide context-relevant, human-like responses in real time, enhancing the customer experience and shortening the time to resolution.
- GenAI-based IVR systems can customize interactions based on a caller’s preferences and call history. Responses are not only contextually accurate, but also tailored to individual customer profiles, elevating the level of personalization.
The use of generative AI in chatbots and IVR systems represents a significant leap forward in customer self-service. By providing more human-like, context-aware, and personalized interactions, GenAI is setting a new standard in customer engagement and support.
Implementing GenAI responsibly: essential precautions for protecting customer data
Before integrating generative AI solutions into customer-facing operations, it’s essential to establish robust guardrails for protecting customer data. The following precautions can help ensure not only technical readiness for GenAI, but also responsible and ethical use of the technology.
Start with internal pilots
Begin by deploying GenAI solutions in controlled internal environments, allowing teams to identify potential challenges and fine-tune the technology in a low-risk setting. Lessons learned from these pilots can then inform broader implementation strategies, enabling a smooth transition to customer-facing applications.
Establish governance structures
AI governance frameworks ensure fair and ethical use of GenAI technologies, monitoring how the technology interacts with data and the responses it generates. A strong governance structure will help maintain the integrity of customer interactions and safeguard against biases or inappropriate uses of AI.
Align with data privacy laws
Alignment with all applicable data privacy regulations is non-negotiable. Generative AI systems often deal with vast amounts of sensitive data, making compliance with laws like GDPR, CCPA, and others critical. Organizations must ensure that their use of GenAI is not only effective, but also legally compliant, respecting customers’ privacy and safeguarding the security of their data.
Additional resources on GenAI readiness
If you’d like to delve deeper into the intricacies of preparing for generative AI implementation, the following articles provide valuable insights:
- Operationalizing generative AI with cloud, Agile, and product management strategies for workplace evolution
- Showcasing the future: building an impactful generative AI demo
- ChatGPT: How to mitigate risk—and be ready for what’s next—with AI governance
- Don’t get caught in the headlights: a wiser path to ChatGPT implementation
Realizing the potential of GenAI in customer self-service
The dawn of generative AI ushered in a transformative era in customer service, opening doors to optimized experiences that significantly enhance customer relationships. This technological leap enables new levels of interactivity and personalization, catering to customers’ growing preferences for effective self-service. By integrating GenAI into customer service portals, organizations can provide the efficient, engaging, and satisfying self-service experiences customers demand, not only boosting customer satisfaction but also enhancing brand perception and driving repeat business.
With the appropriate safeguards in place, customer service organizations can leverage generative AI to elevate their self-service experiences, reaping the benefits of improved customer satisfaction and robust customer relationships. In an increasingly customer-centric business environment, the successful adoption of GenAI for customer experience represents a significant competitive advantage.
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Alexis Greenwood is a Senior Manager in the Logic20/20 Digital Transformation practice. In her experience as a technical project manager and systems analyst, she has enabled change through implementation of many customer-facing solutions.