By Chris Lord, Global Head of Growth, Strategy and Marketing This article was previously published in CMSWire. Companies face major challenges when trying to effectively scale customer service. Successfully responding to customer interactions across an expanding range of channels puts even the most customer-centric organizations to the test. Customers want seamless service in the form of fast responses on their channel of choice (or convenience) — whether that’s chat, phone, website, text, or social media. Providing answers in a cost-effective way while still delivering an exceptional customer experience is not easy, which is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. AI can make an immediate and impactful difference in the short-term for companies looking to streamline the relationship with consumers. That said, a 2014 report by Forrester (registration required) shows understanding customer emotion and empathy are critical components of a successful customer experience. Clearly the human touch is needed at the heart of customer service. How can organizations create customer experiences that deliver efficient service and actually help build empathy, at the same time? By deploying self-learning, automated AI helps customers better serve themselves at a low cost. Customer Desire for Speed and Convenience Fueling Self-Service Customers are increasingly knowledgeable and tech-savvy — we all know that. A report by Gartner (pdf) predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationships with organizations without interacting with a human. But despite that growing preference for self-service, there are still times when customers prefer human interaction. Businesses ultimately help themselves when they offer customers the best approach — whatever format that takes — to get the right answer fast. Not only do they improve customer satisfaction, they reduce the effort and cost to provide that satisfaction. The net result is a higher likelihood that the customer will repeat purchase and become a loyal promoter, sharing their great experience by word-of-mouth and social media. Blend Human and Robot Interactions for Better Customer Experiences Recent technological breakthroughs combine the best of personal and automated services to create a new model of customer engagement. The core of AI in customer service is self-learning powered by analytics. Self-learning allows computers and automated systems to monitor human agents' reactions and responses to questions and process inquiries. They can teach themselves how to complete basic tasks and respond to simple questions without having to escalate it to a live agent. And, they learn from what happens if a problem is escalated to a live agent, so over time fewer and fewer inquiries require the human touch. These automated systems don’t require a major upheaval of IT, and companies won’t have to ditch expensive legacy systems. Most importantly, AI in customer service can actually drive revenue over time with improved customer satisfaction and repeat purchases — eventually paying for itself. Where to Start What does that mean for you, as you look to build a more efficient and empathetic customer service model that marries human and artificial intelligence? Customer Journey Mapping: Anticipate possible friction points in the sales or service cycle and plan proactive online popups to guide customers toward a solution. Analytics for Front-End Research: Big data and analytic tools can help you determine the most appropriate channels for problem resolution based on the complexity of the issue, availability of support, and lifetime value of the customer relationship. Personalization: Understand your customers and personalize their interactions based on what you know of their demographic and preferences. Think about a dynamic website experience automatically customized to past consumer purchase behavior or a chat interaction incorporating previous text or web interactions so the consumer doesn’t need to repeat information. Consistent Brand Experience: Content, particularly FAQs, should be dynamic but consistent across all channels. Use automation and intelligence to contextualize, anticipate, learn, and continually improve. Simplicity: Pick a single queue, product, brand, etc. to start and launch digital projects that can be stood up in 60–90 days, allowing you to quickly gain value and learn. It's All About Balance Artificial intelligence represents a huge step forward in delivering a better experience for customers. However, if it is to succeed, technology needs to be combined with traditional human skills in order to deliver a seamless customer journey that balances self-service with empathy, ultimately providing a tailored experience for every individual’s needs.