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The role of AI in making CX more accessible and inclusive

Here's how AI will help the customer experiences you offer reflect the diversity of the customers you serve.

Von Cristina Fonseca, Head of AI at Zendesk

Zuletzt aktualisiert: August 10, 2023

Customer experiences aren’t meant to be one-size-fits-all. With AI, it’s now possible for businesses to personalize for a wider spectrum of human needs.

According to our research, 66 percent of customers believe that AI will revolutionize how we communicate and interact with technology. Much of this is already happening—how customers search for products, book reservations, or even get tailored help center content are just a few examples of AI’s current impact. But its ability to make customer experiences inclusive and accessible for all will help shape a truly revolutionary future.

Less than four percent of the world’s top million websites are accessible to people with disabilities.

Nearly one in four adults has a form of disability in the United States. That’s roughly 1.3 billion people globally, according to the World Health Organization. Yet less than four percent of the world’s top million websites are accessible to people with disabilities.

It’s time to ensure that personalized, digital-first experiences extend to all customers, not just the general population. This includes neurodiverse customers, as well as those who are:

  • Physically impaired

  • Speech impaired

  • Hearing impaired

  • Visually impaired

From underserved to engaged—how AI can help bridge the accessibility gap

There’s no doubt that our rapid shift to online and digital-first experiences has left a wide swath of customers behind. And as we’ve shifted into these digital environments, accessibility challenges—once solved by things like wheelchair ramps or elevators in a brick-and-mortar store—have become much more complex.

AI can help organizations provide service to anyone, anywhere, in a way that is personalized to their unique needs.

Customers with physical or visual impairment, for example, might not be able to point-and-click a mouse or use a desktop or mobile device screen. Neurodivergent customers may find certain words or writing styles confusing or struggle with certain visual elements. And accessibility doesn’t just mean for customers with disabilities. Language barriers may prevent certain customers from navigating a website properly—or engaging with an agent.

AI can help organizations provide service to anyone, anywhere, in a way that is personalized to their unique needs. Voice AI makes it possible for customers to shop, purchase, and troubleshoot without having to touch their phone. Generative AI can summarize text on a page to make it easier to read and comprehend. And improved AI capabilities are helping to bridge language gaps on multiple customer service channels.

78% of consumers are convinced that voice AI will make significant strides in the near future, according to Zendesk research.

Engaging customers with disabilities is both a societal and a business imperative. According to UK-based group Purple Tuesday, 70 percent of disabled customers will not return to a company after a poor experience. That’s a lost opportunity to tap into a market nearly the size of China with an estimated $1.9 trillion in annual disposable income. Businesses can and should do better to create experiences that address all needs.

Building a one-size-fits-one approach to customer experience

AI will be the driving force in making customer experiences more inclusive and accessible to all. Here are some of the ways that these technologies will or already are making a huge difference:

  • Virtual dressing rooms: If a customer has limited mobility or is unable to come into the store and physically try on clothes, AI can take their measurements to let them try clothes on virtually. That way they can see a realistic mock-up of what the clothes will look like, without having to leave their home.
  • Digital signers for deaf and hard of hearing customers: AI-powered sign language makes it possible to translate any video or audio content into sign language, or any sign language back into spoken word. Companies like Signapse are already creating photo-realistic signers and are working on real-time solutions.
  • Generative AI for image assistance: Image assistance is already able to help visually-impaired customers understand what they’re looking at by verbalizing images on a website. Companies like Be My Eyes are taking that a step further—generative AI can help users by answering questions about any image they send in.

    The example they give—a blind user submitting a picture of the inside of their refrigerator and getting back recipes that can be prepared with the ingredients—is inspiring. Now picture them being able to also purchase items that were low or out. That would go a long way to empowering the visually-impaired community and promoting independence.
  • Voice recognition for non-standard speech: AI can help customers with unique speech patterns be more easily understood, whether they are voice shopping or speaking real-time with an agent. The Big Five tech companies recently announced a partnership with the University of Illinois on the Speech Accessibility Project, but AI company Voiceitt already has a beta app.
  • Voice AI for real-time translation: Imagine being able to speak with any customer in their own language—or even their own dialect. Voice AI can provide real-time translation between two humans (see a recent Meta demo here) or power a multilingual, conversational chatbot.
  • Multilingual chatbots: In addition to chatbots that can converse verbally, they can also communicate in multiple languages over text or chat.
  • Voice shopping: For customers that are unable to physically point-and-click a mouse or may have difficulty seeing a screen, they can instead use their voice to shop and purchase items. Amazon, for instance, already allows voice shopping through their Alexa smart device.
  • Text or text-to-speech summarization: Neurodiverse customers may find it difficult to understand certain ways of writing or word choice. AI can summarize text on a website in a way that makes it easier to understand.

The customer experiences you offer should be as diverse as the customer base you serve. As companies use AI to evolve their customer experiences and their CX teams, they should consider how these technologies can help them engage and empower all potential customers—no matter what their needs or limitations might be.

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