In July, Salesforce announced a series of innovations to Service Cloud Einstein that put AI-powered customer service in the hands of any company, tying together data, intelligence and process to create next-generation customer experiences. Companies including Hulu are using these innovations to fundamentally transform the service experience they create for their customers. This could not come at a better time, given that today 80 percent of customers say the experience that a company provides is as important as its products, according to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report.  

Bill Patterson is Executive Vice President and GM of Salesforce Service Cloud, and is responsible for product direction, platform innovation and customer success. A former software engineer and enterprise solutions architect, Bill’s focus has always been on helping Fortune 1000 organizations design and deploy customer service, contact center, field service and digital service engagement solutions. We sat down with him to get his thoughts on the rapidly shifting service environment, how artificial intelligence is transforming it, and what companies need to think about when building out their service organizations.

With customer expectations rising, and people expecting responses within 30 seconds on Twitter, is there more room for preemptive customer service?

We talk a lot about customer expectations, but we don't talk as much about customer needs. Expectations and needs are different. The ability to go beyond what the customer is requesting or saying to truly understand what the customer needs - that’s the next level of customer service.

To do this right, you have to really know your customer. It's not just about   knowing your process. It's not just knowing the data that you capture. It's about authentically understanding your customer, and knowing what outcomes they're hoping to achieve.

What does this shift towards addressing deeper needs mean for customer service agents?

Agents need to become the advocate for the customer, not just a mouthpiece for the company. You can encourage this behavior by not measuring agents simply on how quickly they can resolve an issue, but more on the quality of the solution and how happy the customer is when they leave the interaction. And this isn’t just altruistic - great service can lead to huge upsell opportunities and drastically increase customer retention.

Do you have any examples of industries that are taking this approach?

Yes. Financial services and wealth advisory companies are actually blurring the lines between the customer service and financial advice functions.

Bank of America is a great example of that. Service providers there concentrate not just on helping people with products that they currently have, but based on their needs are able to identify what products they should have.

How does AI help the service experience?

There are places where AI can automate entire experiences, as is true with our bot technology where straightforward questions like “Is my flight on time?” can be 100% automated. AI can also help with routing questions to the agent best equipped to answer them.

But the more valuable areas for leveraging AI involve helping human agents access the right information to solve complex problems, giving them information at scale in unprecedented ways. For example, when a customer reaches out with a specific question or problem, our AI model can look at thousands of past cases with similar characteristics and draw correlations between them almost instantaneously, then help the agent determine the root cause of the problem and best course of action. Again, identifying what the customer needs, not just what they’re asking for.

What do you think are the biggest roadblocks for companies as they consider integrating AI with their service models, and rethinking their approaches?

They have to transform while they perform. They have to continue to serve the needs today of their customers, but also recognize that what they're doing now is going to look very different in the next two years.

Most companies don't understand that a fundamental mindset shift has to take place. They just keep adding more support channels - email, Facebook, SMS - without asking themselves whether an entirely new approach is required.

Instead of taking a basic additive approach, companies need to adopt a transformational approach to service.

“Service for All” is a phrase we’re hearing more and more. What does it mean?

Today’s customers demand personalized service, and a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work anymore. As a result, companies are modernizing their service organizations and developing new innovations to meet customers’ varying sets of needs. What if you have a customer who is blind? What if you have a customer who is non-verbal and most of your service efforts are taking place on the phone?

Everyone deserves an equal level of service, regardless of any unique requirements they have. This drive towards equality is the basis for new innovations that serve consumers who have wide arrays of needs. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution here and new technologies like artificial intelligence transforming service, we can’t leave people behind.