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The Telstra CEO has got it wrong about the future of customer experience.

Almost every consumer sector is currently facing the same challenge - standing out from the crowd has become incredibly difficult. Traditional elements of differentiation like service, price points and product have started to disappear.

As a direct result, many brands are turning to the customer experience in order to differentiate their offering from competition. Until recently, genuine customer culture was at the core of only a few companies, but now the customer experience is high on the agenda of the CEO, and continues to become central to boardroom discussions.

What's the key to genuine customer experience innovation?

Speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne on Thursday afternoon, Telstra CEO Andrew Penn outlined his belief that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are leading the way in customer experience innovation and consequently building competitive businesses.

Penn argues, "That is the whole premise of many of the most successful disruptors today. Who has tried Uber's or Facebook's call centre? They do not really have one… They are offering an experience in such a way that it is intuitive, it makes sense, so you do not actually need to connect with them or follow up."

Now, this statement is all well and good when we’re discussing multi-billion-pound unicorns and the darlings of Silicon Valley, but I we can’t say the same for the more mundane businesses like telecom operators or energy providers.

More technology, more problems.

Many customers are faced with this reality regularly; a massive effort to automate customer service in order to keep operational costs competitive has resulted in an overwhelming investment in self-service options. Whilst these might seem great for the business, it can be incredibly frustrating for the customer.

When you’ve been overcharged on a recent bill, or your broadband is down, you just want to speak to a human being.

The move to self-service has in many cases made it harder for customers to escalate their inquiries to the stage where they need to speak to another person, via live chat, or on the phone. Despite there being a self-service initiative by a brand, these can, and do fail. This means customers are directed to websites and apps, only to find they have to resort to contacting the call centre anyway.

Not only is this a driver of repeat contacts and a boon to efficiency in the contact centre, it creates incredibly frustrated customers. These frustrating interactions succeed in differentiating your brand - the difference being, your brand is crap.

Leveraging the human elements of the customer experience.

The reality of it is this. We mustn't look to technology alone to provide solutions to problems that require a very human element. Whether it’s machine learning, AI, or any combination of weird and wonderful algorithms we can barely comprehend - it needs to combine with a contact centre full of engaged and empowered agents who are motivated to own and resolve the issues your customers have.