July 28, 2016 | By

Chatbots for Customer Service?

Chatbots are all the rage in our industry these days.  I have to admit, they are kind of cool.  But the fact that you can converse with a machine isn’t a new phenomenon at all. We’ve all spent countless hours pranking around with Siri and other online virtual avatars (c’mon you’ve done it too). What makes chatbots cool is the actual outcome of chatting with one.  When something physical manifests at my doorstep by simply chatting with a bot; that’s when my mind gets blown. While I obviously see disruptive potential with chatbots – it’s important to understand the underpinnings of this new wave of ‘Botification’ and how it applies towards a customer engagement strategy.  So as you grapple with the question of – do I bot or do I not? Here’s a way to put things in perspective.

Yes, computers have come a very long way over the years. Think of instances where computers are now capable of flying planes under decent weather conditions, beating out humans at chess and recently Go (a big step indeed). Smart, they certainly are, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to gobble up your human contact centers.  Let’s examine why:

Not All Issues are Chatbot Friendly.

Bots are powered by artificial intelligence and are generally good at following narrow, tightly defined and routine instructions. The level of sophistication that you can achieve is definitely higher than a phone IVR but still has a long way to go from fully substituting humans in every type of customer service interaction. When considering a chatbot deployment focus on a use case that is easy to begin with and try to apply guardrails where possible.

Not all Customers are Chatbot Friendly.   

While there is an upward trend in terms of consumer exposure to AI, there are a number of customer profiles not keen to be deprived access to a human.  For example, while millennials tend to want answers to their questions quickly and love a more automated approach to customer service older generations tend to still like human to human contact.  They grew up in an era before the Internet and feel more secure knowing that no matter how complex the question, they have someone on the other end listening.

Not all Interfaces are Chatbot Friendly.

While Botification is the latest buzzword, don’t misconstrue this as the slow death of ‘Appification’ or the need to a cram user interfaces with text boxes wherever possible. Each of these have their own purpose and should be complimentary not exclusionary.

While chatbots are certainly exciting, a lot of these technologies will need some time and effort to mature within a customer service environment.  And they really shouldn’t fly solo.  It’s important to be able to leverage knowledge within the human agents in contact center as well as the wealth of information present in historical chat logs. You also need to think of seamless ways to transition customers from being served by a bot to human agent when the situation calls for it.

When having this conversation with customers, I often tell them to imagine they had a brick & mortar store.  This store employs real humans, sells products and services like a traditional store, but also has state of the art kiosks where customers can self-serve.  Think about which types of customers you would likely send to the kiosk vs your best human staff? What attributes differ one customer group vs another? Where do you think you’d be in better control of delivering a superior customer experience? Where are the stakes higher for greater service vs opportunities for cost efficiency? Let these answers help shape your strategy.

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