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Zendesk is expanding the use of artificial intelligence (AI) on its Customer Experience (CX) platform with today’s release of a suite of new capabilities the company is calling Zendesk AI.
Zendesk’s new AI capabilities include advanced bots for handling customer inquiries across industries. Customer service agents will now also benefit from AI-powered assistance in answering questions. In addition, the system integrates intelligent triage capabilities that use sentiment analysis and intent detection to route requests appropriately.
While many of Zendesk’s AI capabilities were developed by the company’s own teams, the new services have also benefited from a healthy dose of generative AI through a partnership with Open AI. The generative AI component fits into the entire Zendesk AI suite and helps with response generation and content summarization.
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“We believe we need to make AI easy to understand and use and accessible to everyone,” Cristina Fonseca, Head of AI at Zendesk, told VentureBeat.
What generative AI adds to Zendesk
Zendesk was no stranger to AI prior to partnering with OpenAI.
Zendesk took a big step into AI in 2021 with the acquisition of Portugal-based startup Cleverly AI, where Fonseca was previously the CEO. In September 2022, Zendesk announced a major update that integrates Cleverly AI technology to make customer service more responsive. Fonseca said today’s Zendesk AI release is an evolution of what the company announced in September 2022, which was aimed specifically at retail. She noted that the new release is available to a wider range of customers.
Zendesk has offered bot capabilities for some time, but Fonseca said OpenAI’s generative AI foundation has significantly expanded those capabilities.
“We believe that off-the-shelf software should be intelligent and most bots can only work if you spend a lot of time training them,” she said. “This is one of the most important features we’re launching now – with bots that are pre-trained and already understand customers.”
The generative AI will also help drive a refreshed set of capabilities for higher customer service agent productivity. Zendesk AI uses OpenAI’s technology to support summation and sentiment analysis for questions that in turn help agents respond effectively. The ability to help agents create responses is also part of the new update.
Why generative AI alone isn’t enough for CX
Fonseca stressed that while Zendesk AI leverages OpenAI’s generative AI, it doesn’t let go of its Cleverly AI roots.
For example, intelligent triage is a fundamental element that the product uses, developed by Cleverly AI to understand the customer’s intent, sentiment, and language to properly direct a query. For that system, Zendesk has its own models that are trained on Zendesk’s data. Fonseca said those models understand customer service because they are specifically trained on customer service data and provide a high degree of accuracy.
“The way we look [OpenAI’s generative AI] is basically a tool to help us accelerate things that were already on the roadmap, and it makes a lot of sense to add to our suite of products,” said Fonseca.
For example, she noted that Zendesk was building out its own approach to proposing new answers for customer service representatives, and creating content for a knowledge base on various issues. Without OpenAI, the concept content Zendesk could generate wasn’t quite polished, she said. With the OpenAI integration, Zendesk’s data can now be used to generate well-written answers and knowledge base articles.
“We try to leverage OpenAI and large language models (LLMs) to help us perfect everything we do, on top of the content,” she said.
With all the power AI brings to Zendesk and its users, Fonseca cautioned that it’s important to realize that AI can’t and shouldn’t do everything when it comes to customer experience. She noted that CX is complex and involves workflows — and sometimes systems — that aren’t integrated with Zendesk.
“I think the first thing we need to do for our customers is help them understand what should and shouldn’t be automated,” she said. “Because if something can’t be automated, you don’t feel like having a bot talk to a customer if the bot can’t add value.”
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