This article was previously published in Customer on August 7, 2017 by Jason Kapler.
Customer service teams are in pursuit of better, cheaper, and faster ways to connect and converse with their customers. And the previously “alternate” customer-to-brand methods like messaging apps and social options have become mainstream. Facebook offers a platform for businesses to deliver automated customer support and advice via chatbots. By 2020, Gartner predicts that this type of intelligent automation will manage 85% of customer relationships with businesses.
If you believe all the hype, chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) are destined to completely replace customer service (CS) agents. However, data suggests it won’t happen anytime soon. In fact, many companies are investing in human resources to handle consumer interaction because they realize that automation can’t ever replace the desire for authentic human interactions and experiences.
Think of chatbots as assistants rather than customer service agent replacements
Chatbots may be creating jobs, not killing them. While Forrester data reveals that 60% of U.S. online adults already use online messaging, voice, or video chat services, there are challenges to widespread adoption.
A Forrester survey of online consumers found that our respondents had a difficult time identifying clear benefits to interacting with them. Many prefer to communicate with a representative who can show real empathy, address more complex needs, and offer them assurance. That suggests that the future for customer service is working with chatbots, not replacing human CS agents.
In this customer service scenario, chatbots elevate humans by taking the more mundane, repetitive tasks and providing agents with the time to compassionately and empathetically work with more difficult, complex, or higher value cases.
To use military analogies, chatbots are on the front lines as first responders that handle the easy, routine incoming messages. They are the chatbot army. CS agents are special ops with the uniquely human skill sets needed to provide quality customer care. This bot + human combination is the best way to provide speed, scale and quality to create highly effective CS teams of the future.
Using chatbots effectively to streamline customer service
As consumer preferences shift to messaging apps and more direct and efficient means to communicate with brands, companies will need to determine what chatbots and automation are good for and where do human teams add the greatest value.
In the travel industry, brands are shifting to less human interaction and more self-service options. Check your bags via a chatbot and self-service kiosks remove the need for human interaction, until something goes wrong and you need a real person.
“Brands in retail, healthcare, and technology understand the value of real-time customer communications via social media and messaging channels,” said Peter Friedman, chairman and chief executive officer at LiveWorld. “Our software enriches the customer experience with a comprehensive platform that integrates human assistance with chatbots, and swiftly responds and resolves customer inquiries at larger scale with a personal touch.”
Jo Allison, consumer behavioral analyst at the research firm Canvas8, which has published several reports on chatbots, agrees. “The potential chatbots have to improve customer service is exciting because it’s very real,” says Allison, who sees the technology as an alternative to the “almost universally unpopular” interactive voice response (IVR) technology used by many companies’ customer service operations now.
Chatbots will add value by enabling customer service agents to be more efficient
If bots are going to replace CS agents it won’t happen any time soon. Admittedly, chatbots work well in scenarios when customer requests are in a specific area and the solutions are well known, predictable and scriptable. They do well in use cases where the responses are similar and the high volume creates a business case to automate the response and free up human agents to deal with more complex issues.
“For chatbot automation to handle messaging at scale it needs to bring the personal and conversational aspect, to react like a human, and it’s not there yet,” says Frank Chevallier, vice president of software products for LiveWorld. “To answer not only the simple questions, they need more empathy and complex, personal, and contextual knowledge. The ability to manage the collaboration between human agents and digital agents – LiveWorld’s focus, is to support the customer with chatbots and augment those with human agents ready to intervene so chatbots can hand off to humans in an efficient way. Human agents can react in real time with a civilized conversation and involve the bot again when it is appropriate.”
The future of the customer experience isn’t an “either” “or” choice between chatbots or humans. The role of chatbots should be to bring efficiencies to business operations, particularly when it comes to automating tasks and processes where humans don’t add value. The human touch and the role it plays will remain vital to the overall customer experience.
Check out LiveWorld’s customer service software for messaging apps and the advantage that automation and integrated chatbots bring to achieving the best customer experience.