How to Manage Customer Service Technology Innovation

Service leaders see promise in virtual assistants and bots, but they must set realistic expectations and commit long term.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in customer service interactions continues apace, making it critical for service leaders to avoid the hype and work with IT leaders to stay focused on the potential business cases.

Customer service is a hotbed for new technology and innovation

Gartner predicts that by 2021, 15% of all customer service interactions globally will be handled completely by AI, an increase of 400% from 2017. But before then — by 2020 — 40% of the bot virtual assistant applications launched in 2018 will have been abandoned as technology adoption converges on fewer apps.

Customer service is a hotbed for new technology and innovation,” said Jeff Schott, Director, Gartner. “However, in today’s ever-evolving technology landscape, innovations threaten to overwhelm even the most progressive service leaders. And shiny new objects quickly lose their luster without a coherent technology strategy — one that is grounded in realistic expectations and a long-term commitment.”

Read more: 4 Trends in Gartner Hype Cycle for Customer Service and Customer Engagement

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Expect and encourage failure

With all the excitement around bots and virtual customer assistants (VCAs), it’s no wonder that customer service leaders are increasingly optimistic about the possibilities for these technologies. Gartner research shows that deploying bots and VCAs can deliver various benefits to the contact center, including greater capability and scale, faster chat speed and better gatekeeping.

However, developing best practices and realistic expectations will be an ongoing process for many enterprises, and deciding how to manage that process will be critical. The most successful programs will be designed to expect, and even encourage, a certain level of failure.

The key to success with emerging technologies is to enable experimentation and learning

“As we’ve learned from our IT colleagues, the key to success with emerging technologies is to enable experimentation and learning,” added Schott. “Not only does this help to refine your strategy, but also gives you the ability to direct investments where returns are evident.”

Service leaders need to work with their IT counterparts to anticipate and manage failures. Those who do not will either have set expectations too low or will continue to invest in projects with a low likelihood of success even after they should have been discontinued.

Set the strategy

When setting strategy for technology adoption, service leaders must remember to:

  • Manage expectations by setting modest goals for initial projects and by describing projects with accurate terms.
  • Expect, allow and even encourage, experimentation, but never deploy poor-quality solutions to users.  
  • Ensure that chatbots and VCA projects have clear business rationales and objectives, and are not just based on the “coolness” factor.
  • Factor in that while some technologies will work on their own, others will work best in combinations, such as a chatbot in a mobile application, driven by a powerful natural language processing engine.
  • Choose platform development approaches tactically, as the maturation pace of tools will quickly render many current vendors and solution designs obsolete.

Gartner for Customer Service and Support Leaders can learn more about customer service technology innovation and investments in the reports Current and Emerging Technologies in Service and Predicts 2018: CRM Customer Service and Customer Engagement.