Remember when the customer service desk was just a euphemism for a complaint bureau? Back then, customers ranted on the phone or in person about returns, wrong sizes, and overcharges. The idea was a good one, but the end result was frustrated shoppers.
Fast-forward to today. Imagine you're out house-hunting, and using a mobile phone, you can find out immediately from the bank whether you can really afford that dream house. Or instantly find out specific flights that can be booked with your frequent flier miles.
The explosion of social media has changed the notion of customer service across all industries. A service once restricted to phones and then email has been opened through social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
But challenges remain. Expectations for brand engagement are now in line with how people communicate: instant messaging, rapid-fire texting, and pretty much everything consumers want on a mobile device.
The state of today's customer service leaves much to be desired. We found that as many as two-thirds of the 135 billion unresolved customer service calls each year could be resolved with better access to information, the search for which takes up about six to eight minutes per call,
Those problems shouldn't surprise marketers. With information at their fingertips, today's connected consumer doesn't have much patience for companies that don't -- or can't -- provide quick access to the right information on the spot.
CMOs face a different issue: motivating consumers to engage. People who make a purchase are often too busy to take advantage of offers or ask questions to make sure they're choosing the right products. Many companies want to expand their reach to these customers, but can't.
The good news? We're about to enter a new era of "cognitive" computing that will take customer service light years ahead of complaint bureau drudgery. It will give consumers the personalized advice they crave.
You may have seen cognitive computing in action when Watson defeated two human champions on Jeopardy!. The system could understand the nuance of human language and process questions akin to the way people actually think.
It was able to quickly sift though vast amounts of big data to find relevant, evidence-based answers and reply to questions on the spot.
Since then, we've seen that cognitive computers have improved decision-making across a variety of industries. That includes financial services, telecommunications and also healthcare, where it's providing advice to doctors making clinical decisions. You could say that Watson is emerging as an operating system for artificial intelligence, in the same fashion Windows dominated the PC era.
Now cognitive computing is changing the way brands engage with their customers. It can assist service agents or sit right in the hands of consumers via mobile devices, cloud-based services and online chat sessions. By handling simple inquiries, cognitive computing allows service representatives to focus on what they do best: personal interactions with customers – and help them keep up with skyrocketing demand.
By connecting with people and continuously learning, these "digital advisors" can provide fast, accurate and personalized conversations that deliver exactly what each customer wants. More personalized service will deepen a brand's interactions with today's digitally savvy consumers, who expect to be known as individuals and not part of broad demographic groups. Top brands such as ANZ, Celcom, IHS, Nielsen and Royal Bank of Canada are exploring ways that cognitive computing can crunch Big Data to provide fast, personalized responses for empowered consumers.
That's good news for business leaders such as CMOs, customer experience executives and heads of sales, who all need to transform how they interact with customers to build brand loyalty and improve customer service.
It's for these reasons that cognitive computing will help build brand loyalty for marketers. As a key ingredient of smarter commerce, it's a natural fit for customer service -- where asking the right questions, understanding people's needs and guiding them to customized purchase decisions can mean everything to a brand's revenue growth and reputation.