Saurabh Singh is director and Jason McDannold is partner and managing director at AlixPartners, a New York-based global consulting firm that specializes in turnarounds and restructurings. Views are the authors’ own.
Personal touch or touch screen? Human voice or voice-response system? When it comes to customer service, businesses struggle to find the right mix of attention and automation. All too often, the internal conversation becomes an unproductive dialogue, with the CFO cast in the role of Dr. No — the guy who can count the cost but can’t see the upside.
It shouldn’t be that way. As we explored in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review, proven answers exist: winning companies can address the tension between intimacy and efficiency by investing effectively in digital capabilities.
The problem is that the usual conversation among senior management is based on old tradeoffs. Now, new realities exist, which can produce win-win outcomes. That tension often manifests itself as an argument between revenue and costs that can get very personal, with the chief revenue officer pushing for growth while the CFO is watching out for margin.
Both CFOs and CROs want customer renewals, greater net retention revenue and customer loyalty, and enhanced customer lifetime value. But, CFOs usually evaluate investments from the standpoint of EBITDA margin and tend to prioritize projects with short runways to results. CROs, on the other hand, often focus on topline sales, marketing, and customer experience and often have longer (and sometimes more vague) time horizons. Chief information officers, for their part, can be caught in the middle and in trying to serve two masters, end up pleasing neither.
Leading companies are finding that the tension between cost efficiency and customer intimacy and value can be resolved thanks to the increasing power and flexibility of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies when applied to self-service and customer support. Work that we have done with multiple clients confirms what we learned in our recent survey of customer success leaders from various industries: A digitally enabled customer success strategy can produce a best-of-both worlds result.This can create more personalization, more satisfaction, and better service along with lower costs and an enhanced ability to scale.
Our research and experience show that companies that focus only on efficient customer interactions increase their risk of delivering poor customer experiences.
In the past, self-service was limited to clunky automated handling of inbound calls designed to reduce labor costs in contact centers. Look at chatbots, for example. Most chatbots can handle moderately sophisticated conversations, such as welcome calls s and product discovery interactions, but the “if/then” logic that powers their conversational capabilities limits what they can do, and those limitations can infuriate customers.
For instance, if a customer asks a question that you didn’t account for when designing your chatbot’s logic, there’s no way it can answer their question, which hangs your customer out to dry; worse, automated systems are frequently designed to make it hard for customers to escape the bot and find a person.
That doom loop of dissatisfaction and defection isn’t inevitable, thanks to advances in AI and machine learning. The role of AI/ML technologies in self-service and customer support has evolved significantly in recent years, enabling a shift toward truly customer-centric self-service, with tools that listen better, respond faster, and understand consumers' language and intent.
Generative AI tools like ChatGPT can provide support for analyzing customer data and providing insights into customer behavior and preferences, and then translate that into good experiences for customers. While generative AI was not originally built for customer service, its human-like responses and chat interface will revolutionize customer service operations. The software’s capabilities are still maturing, but they are advancing so fast that the time has come for CFOs, CIOs, and revenue and customer experience leaders to begin working with the tools to get ahead of the competition.
If implemented right, ChatGPT and other AI/ML/NLP capable chatbots can humanize digital interaction, helping companies balance their focus on efficiency and at the same time deliver first-class customer experience. This will make end-customers “stickier” and increase company revenue. This is where we help readers understand what the story means and how it could impact their industry.