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How to handle angry customers, AI version

Sharon Gaudin | May 21, 2015
Losing frustrated and irate customers? A.I. may tell you why.


Companies often frustrate their customers -- or make them downright irate -- because of product problems, shipping snafus or rude people on customer service lines.

The problem for companies, though, is to figure out exactly why their customers are angry before they ditch them for a competitor.

To help enterprises discover the root causes of customers' anger, researchers at a New Zealand-based company are using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to mimic furious callers and run through millions of scenarios to figure out how customers react in different situations.

"These are often the seeds of opportunities where a business can differentiate itself in the market by consistently delighting customers in ways not easily visible to competitors," said Frank van der Velden, CEO of Touchpoint Group, a software company focused on the New Zealand and Australian markets. "One of our key objectives is to automatically detect these situations, and to allow both risks and customer opportunities to be quickly acted on."

Touchpoint is putting $500,000 into the project, which has been dubbed Radiant after a predictive supercomputer in sci-fi author Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of novels.

The research project will run what-if scenarios to see if a given situation is likely to enrage or please a customer, according to van der Velden.

The AI program will go to work over the next six months, simulating hundreds of millions of angry customer interactions.

It also will use what Touchpoint calls a "massive" data set to come up with thousands of different customer experience variables to help Radiant learn to predict customer reactions to various situations.

According to Touchpoint, it will test millions of these scenarios each week.

"Figuring out what makes customers angry and why is a pretty good use for AI," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "Assuming the models used by the AI are accurate, the results should provide valuable insight for businesses into not only how to avoid making their customers angry, but how to best fix it when they do become mad at the company."

He added that it's not that enterprises don't know what upsets customers The problem is more that they don't know what angers customers the most and how to best fix the mess.

"Do customers become more angry over products delivered late or products that don't work as advertised? Acquiring a customer is expensive, and businesses need to do everything they can to keep a customer buying from them for a long time," said Olds. "I think the combination of enterprise IT and machine learning is just barely entering its infancy. In the future, I expect that most enterprises of any size will have some sort of functions that make use of these deep learning concepts."


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