Intelligent Self-Service: Three Ways to Grow Consumer Comfort with Automated, Robotics-Driven Interactions

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With Google at their fingertips and Alexa at their beck and call, today’s consumers are used to interacting with machines conversationally to get the answers they need without human assistance. Smart companies are taking advantage of this shift.

According to Gartner, “By 2022, it will be far more common for a video-based customer support agent to also share the user interface, or for a chatbot to be used by the customer support agent while conversing with the customer. Because of this, we expect the interaction proportions of human and artificial agents to be 36% human agent intervention/participation and 85% software (a combination of self-service and software used simultaneous with the human agent engagement).”1 Of that figure, 64% will be customer self-service and an additional 21% will include agent-assisted self-service.2

While the study by Verint in partnership with Opinium Research in 2018 shows that most consumers value human interaction and want it to remain a part of customer service, especially when complex requests are involved, the findings also show that nearly two-thirds of respondents—63%—are happy to be served by a chatbot if they have the option to escalate the conversation to a human when needed. In fact, 41% said they cannot tell the difference in whether they are being served by a chatbot or a human behind the screen.

What do these findings mean for today’s CX leaders? They open the door for experience design to implement more self-service options for customers with artificial Intelligence (AI), chatbots and virtual assistants handling many transactions traditionally performed by agents. But how can we be sure we get it right?

For the greatest benefit, self-service projects should be implemented carefully, with consistent involvement by the CX team to ensure they achieve as many gains in customer satisfaction as they do in operating efficiency. Here are three guidelines for keeping your work on course.

1. Use communities as a self-service hub.

One important CX principle is to view your company the way your customers see you. Customers needing answers don’t care which department the answers come from, and they don’t want to hear explanations as to why a certain request must be routed to a different part of the company for resolution. They want a seamless experience. We’re applying this principle to a major new project for our company this year: transforming our customer community platform to serve as the central point from which our customers can access all the resources they need.

In short, our customer community will become a self-service hub. It will continue to function as a forum for discussion among our customers, our employees and our partners, and our plan is to take it one step further. From the community, customers can enter their question and the built in intelligence will help them decide whether to initiate a support request, network with other customers who use the same product to see how they’re solving certain issues, or find out about upcoming webinars and other events. Our customers won’t have to choose where to initiate their issue. Rather, the community will automatically direct them to the most likely place for it to be resolved, whether it initiates a support ticket or links them to an area in the community where the issue was discussed and answers were provided.

With this approach, when customers come to us with an issue, they won’t have to worry about how to solve it. We’ll handle it for them. All they need to do is come to the community and tell us about it in an environment they trust. We’re excited about the project, and I will keep you updated on its progress in future columns.

2. Focus on issue resolution, not first contact resolution (FCR), and be agile with the customer experience.

Are you using the best measures? Some organizations view FCR as the ultimate measure of effective customer engagement. And, certainly, FCR has been proven to be a driver of higher customer satisfaction. However, our company had to review how we were monitoring this metric for intelligent self-service.

Before managing our customer experience program, I managed customer support. In that role, I measured issue resolution from the customer’s perspective—this meant that tickets were not closed until the customer agreed that their issue was resolved. We gathered customer resolution feedback through a satisfaction survey, where each customer had the chance to give our team feedback on whether or not they felt that we fully resolved the issue. The new method gave us greater confidence in our measurement of whether the issue was truly resolved, because it was from the customer’s perspective—not ours.

Customer service teams today have new intelligent tools available to them, but the concept is the same, which is to measure whether customers accomplished their goals or escalated to another channel. We’ll be using many of these tools in our new customer community. For example, if a customer attempts to complete a task in the community, effective monitoring can show how often the task was completed and how often the customer needed to use another channel, like chat or phone, to complete the task. Monitoring this, and adjusting the experience accordingly, is powerful and will be our key to increasing customer satisfaction.

3. Understand that self-service and assisted service are intimately connected.

As mentioned, there are many new tools available that really help organizations work smarter today on both the self-service and assisted service sides of the equation. Analytics tools ingest data from assisted service interactions—live chat logs, for example, or recorded and transcribed calls. They analyze the data to identify customer goals or intents, match them with tasks that are capable of being automated, and then pass them on to a virtual assistant for automation. This is information that can help you prioritize the interactions to automate and thus improve self-service experiences.

Utilizing these tools helps our teams identify intents that are failing in automation and escalating to live agents to improve how automation is recognizing and handling certain goals. It might be a problem with how the intent is identified or how it is mapped to the next action. Solving that problem improves both automated and assisted service by reducing the load on agents and letting them focus on resolving issues that can’t be automated. It’s a good example of why it is important to view the entire customer journey as it crosses self-service and assisted service. 

Exploring new benefits; addressing new challenges.

The new self-service technology tools available today really are amazing. They are like a super-employee—highly trained, perfectly informed and consistent, mindful of what the customer wants. They can be everywhere at one, on any channel. Customers can simply talk or type questions as if they are conversing with a person, and the technology will figure out what they want and take the best next action to achieve their goals quickly.

I mentioned earlier the surveys showing customer preference for human assistance when they have a complex transaction or question. While that preference will probably never change, what is changing is the definition of complexity. The new tools make it possible for some very complex requests to be handled by virtual assistants. As technology advances, those capabilities will no doubt increase, leaving behind a field of inquiries that require human intervention.

Intelligent self-service will continue to bring many benefits—helping companies drive service capacity higher and cost per contact lower, modernizing customer engagement, and meeting customers wherever they are, even as the number of engagement channels continues to rise. As CX professionals, our jobs will be to ensure that however customers want to interact with us—via technology or human interaction or a combination of both—their goals are achieved seamlessly.

Notes:

1 Gartner, “Plan Now for Critical Shifts in Customer Interaction Patterns,” June 27, 2017.

2 Gartner, “Plan Now for Critical Shifts in Customer Interaction Patterns,” June 27, 2017, Figure 1.

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