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Helpshift Executive Interview

Linda Crawford, CEO, Helpshift


Helpshift CEO Sees the Future of AI-Dominated Service Taking off With Launch of New Airline  

Perhaps you’ve heard that a new next-gen airline is preparing to take its place in the American skies in 2021. JetBlue founder David Neeleman has purchased 60 Airbus A220; 300 jets worth approximately $5.4 billion and plans to fly them on long-haul flights from the US to Europe and South America, as well as within the US, targeting small and midsize airports in cities including New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He believes that the A220 will enable the yet-unnamed low-cost carrier -- referred to as ‘Moxy’ in advance presentations -- to serve thinner routes in comfort without compromising cost, especially on longer-range flights. 

When Neeleman founded JetBlue two decades ago, his promise was to “bring humanity back to air travel.”  For this new launch, he is adapting a diametrically opposite strategy in at least one area.  Customer service will be provided for the most part to passengers without a human being involved. Customers will interact with the airline via its app which they project will eliminate long on hold times and dramatically limit need for overburdened customer support agents. Agents will be available when human involvement is essential. 

Linda Crawford, CEO of Helpshift, an AI-powered conversational platform designed to enable companies to deliver customer service that exceeds expectations, views this as a seminal development in customer support. Although Helpshift is not currently involved with JetBlue or Moxy, she strongly believes that the fledgling flyer is taking a direct route to the future.

“Artificial intelligence is in a unique position to promote a better customer support experience that also comes at a lower cost,” she said. “Chatbots make customer support processes more efficient and streamlined, allowing more bandwidth for human-provided high-touch assistance when necessary. Using bots in this scenario will enable consumers to get instant answers. The next phase of customer service is proactive—not passive or reactive and brands who want to stay ahead of the competition should take this to heart.”

 Helpshift, founded in 2012, has approximately 400 customers in the mid-market and enterprise b-to-c spaces.  They consider a significant part of its mission to be “disrupting the traditional contact center.” While Crawford acknowledges that the time when human agents will no longer be needed is “far down the line,” she also believes that “in five years, it will be difficult to find a world-class company that isn’t using AI to improve the customer experience.” She predicts that simple, repetitive tasks will be automated very quickly.    

While there is progress, it is still incremental. “At this point, about 20% to 30% of companies are piloting AI customer service programs, while 10%have something in production …and another two to three percent have programs that are non-English speaking,” she noted.    

Helpshift provides an end-to-end customer support platform that can deliver the agent experience as well as the admin experience which enables supervisors to set up agents for optimal productivity. “We offer bots that can handle complex decisions,” noted Crawford.  “We also have an AI layer that not only helps power the bots but can do other things like surfacing insights from unstructured data, detecting intent and tagging and routing of issues.

The company is best known for providing in-app customer support within mobile applications.  In its formative years, Helpshift operated under the premise that giving customers the ability to be served within an app was a better approach than making it necessary to escape and then need to do a Google search to find answers and get help made for a better experience. This approach led to the solution being adapted by retail, media, travel and - in particular- mobile gaming companies. “Working with mobile gaming companies with 10 to 20 million people playing at one time forced us to understand the importance of having tremendous scaling capabilities,” said Crawford. “It requires very rapid responses to cases, high deflection rates… elements that no traditional contact center could keep up with at such a high level of volume. These clients need more effective FAQs and deflection techniques to dramatically reduce the number of issues filed and worked on by human agents.

Helpshift rapidly evolved from its roots of providing an asynchronous messaging platform and applied it to mobile app, mobile website and email as well. While focused on the digital channels, they work with partners to provide voice integration as well. Crawford believes that many interactions now handled by human agents will soon be able to be resolved by bots. “In our experience with b-to-c clients, there are many very common and predictable issues that get resolved in two interactions. These are excellent targets for either full automation or at the very least, partial automation. There is a lot of information…last 4 digits of social security number or what line item a customer is ordering from that can …and should be front-ended to agents.”

What enables the solution to seamlessly transition to human agents when needed is that it employs predictive algorithms to analyze customer conversations, application data and historical data to enable an automated and efficient way to triage, route and resolve issues. “We believe our customers can effect very dramatic improvements in agent performance and productivity by employing bots,” said Crawford. “Some bots are AI-powered, and others are decision-oriented: we don’t believe at this point that there is a sufficient level of confidence to justify having all bots powered by AI, so we enable our customers to create their own decision trees where their customers can go through a predetermined flow with a very high degree of confidence.”

Clients have reported up to a 95% ticket deflection rate with Helpshift’s Answer Bots. “Our solutions are designed to work without the need for armies of SIs to get them up and running.” said Crawford. “it’s the contact center people who are doing administration: it’s all point and click and drop and drag to update FAQs or adjust workflow.  We just onboarded one of our largest customers in less than 6 weeks with just a few people involved in the process who weren’t even working full time on it.”