person walking through hallways of airport with direction signs overhead
PHOTO: Allie Smith

Every customer hits a roadblock on their journey at some point, forcing them to make a quick decision. It’s how businesses react to these disruptions that separates the winners and losers.

For example, an airline may cancel a flight without allowing much time for a customer to find another option, leaving them stranded for an extra night or needing to shell out an unexpected couple hundred dollars (or equivalent) for a new flight.

Travel companies with the right tech in place would be able to anticipate this cancellation and set the customer up with a new flight well before the customer was aware there was a problem. But this scenario isn’t specific to travel — every industry can face similar challenges at any moment. And while having the right information at your fingertips is important, how long it takes to act on that information is equally crucial.

Good Timing Is Invisible. Bad Timing Sticks Out By a Mile

Customers often need information immediately because its value is directly tied to that moment in time — mere seconds could mean the difference between the customer catching that other flight or being stranded. In customer relationship management (CRM), customer advocates rely on real-time data to make decisions, reducing time to increase overall customer satisfaction.

It can come down to seconds. Technology must detect events and pass that information in real time to make changes which create value and satisfaction. But offering real-time information isn’t where excellent service ends — the information will have the most impact when it puts customer-facing agents in a position to make the right decision as quickly as possible. If the information can’t be acted on quickly, if it's in complicated charts and graphs, it can lead to indecision, by which time the customer has moved on.

Related Article: Customer Experience Isn't About Fixing Discomfort, It's About Preventing It

Adding Context and Intention

In addition to timing, service representatives need to understand the full context of the customer’s situation to serve them. This includes factoring in data such as location, environmental conditions, emotional states and more. All this data should be fed into a centralized AI engine to get the most accurate and relevant recommendations. Taken together, it ensures representatives can quickly and efficiently handle customer requests with a personal touch. This should be true no matter which channel the customer engages — be it on the phone, in a chat, in an app or in store.

In some cases (such as a phone call), the exchange begins and ends on the same channel. But it’s increasingly common for the interaction to move between different channels. Brands must treat each interaction as a continuous conversation that leaves off on one channel and seamlessly picks up on another. When brands ensure each step of the journey builds off the last, they are more likely to remain in a customer’s good graces, strengthening the relationship for the long term.

Related Article: With Customer Experience, Time Is Money

Timing + Context = Empathetic Customer Experience

Can brands actually accomplish this customer interaction utopia? With humans working together with empathetic AI technology the answer is yes.

Take our earlier airline example — a system can easily identify a potential problem that will delay the scheduled takeoff of the customer's plane. In the background, it could prepare a backup plan for the customer knowing their preferred airlines, seating and hotels.

But not all systems use AI to infer the sense of urgency or frustration the customer feels with a last-minute cancellation, or know that the customer needs to be on time for a business meeting. Human service representatives may not be able to process information as fast as AI can, but what they can do is sense frustration in a customer’s communications, understand their situation, journey stage and intent, and make informed recommendations based on it. This an example of how AI and humans can work together to meet customer expectations.

The most advanced AI can detect tone and emotions and deliver a more personal customer experience by leveraging swaths of data collected from email, web, mobile and more. Having technology capable of analyzing this data instantaneously enhances customer interactions and can increase brand loyalty and trust.

Moving forward, AI technology with empathic elements will be at the core of ensuring businesses can present all of the relevant information to their customers to make informed decisions on each of their journeys.