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Verizon exists at the intersection of online and offline — approximately 100 million customers rely on the telecommunications giant for their mobile, TV, and internet capabilities. Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, said in a talk at VentureBeat’s Transform 2021 conference that artificial intelligence (AI) is crucial to retaining the company’s existing customers and onboarding new ones.

AI has helped the New York City-based company fine-tune its products during the COVID-19 pandemic, when a much larger share of the population has worked from home.

Verizon’s action plan was informed by its own journey to move its 17,000 customer service representatives to a remote work model while juggling its physical retail locations. AI-enabled tools helped support staff in its stores operate a touchless sales environment, ensuring workers’ safety while maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction.

That’s about being “phygital,” Dunne said, blending the digital and physical worlds to give customers a seamless experience from start to finish.

To drive that strategy home, Verizon has implemented VIKI (Verizon Interactive Knowledge Interface) to bring its insight database into its brick-and-mortar stores. The partnership enhances the company’s ability to sell certain products and services to customers.

“Despite being a leading telecoms — and therefore technology — company, customers don’t want to buy what tech offers; they buy the experience tech enables,” Dunne told Shuchi Rana, general manager of events at VentureBeat.

It’s about striking a balance between cutting edge technology and the user experience. Verizon defines its success metrics by lower unit cost to serve while delivering a higher-quality service outcome, Dunne said.

As with other companies now bringing AI into the fold, the tech is not meant to replace human workers. Instead, Verizon tells its employees to think of AI as a tool, one that takes menial labor out of their job descriptions and enables them to deliver more creative, wide-ranging solutions to the problems they face.

For example, take a Verizon customer call to a call center. It does not have to reflect on the company as a failure of its technology, but rather an opportunity to add value to the consumer’s experience with Verizon, Dunne said.

Data has also shown that automation can create similar, if not better, outcomes in several aspects of Verizon’s work. And as the 5G era arrives, Dunne expects mobile edge computing will improve several of its processes. Augmented reality and enhanced smart features on electronics are also possible.

But with those changes come cybersecurity challenges Dunne says Verizon is working to address. “We’re taking the fundamental belief, which is ‘your data for your uses on your terms’ and meeting that with the opportunity to provide data at scale in a way that significantly enhances experiences and outcomes for customers,” Dunne said.

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