Chatbots and self-service: the good, the bad and the right way to use them

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Whether it’s asking Siri to tell us the weather outside or tracking the status of an order through a chatbot on an e-commerce site, we are now interacting with virtual assistants and technologies that power automated experiences on a daily basis.

The potential for such technology is enormous and many benefits are already being realised across both B2B and B2C worlds.

However, as with any new technology, breakthrough, or disruptive force, all the kinks are yet to be ironed out. This is particularly the case in customer service where chatbot adoption is clearly accelerating, but consumer attitudes towards the technology are still mixed and unclear.

Chatbots and other self-service technologies pose much promise for the industry but, without listening to the consumer and understanding the when, where and how of deploying the technology, customer relationships can disappear and trust can dwindle very quickly.

Chatbots: the pros

Chatbots are becoming a permanent fixture in the world of customer service. Between 2018 and 2020 chatbot usage statistics show a 67% increase and the chatbot market is projected to reach an incredible $102.29 billion by 2026 – and the technology brings significant benefits with it too.

When customers reach out to a company for service, they expect fast response times and seamless resolutions, no matter what channel they use. Chatbots and automated self-service technologies help ensure customers can resolve their simple questions and concerns quickly, and one of their greatest advantages is that they are available 24/7 to help consumers.

The other side of the coin is the burden they take off agents. Service agents can only handle so many cases at one time, but as chatbots help customers resolve simple queries quickly, they can free up agents’ time so they can focus on the more complex interactions that require a more human touch.

Chatbots: the cons

Chatbots and other self-service features are clearly extremely useful, but they need to be used strategically, hand-in-hand with live agents, and not as a replacement for agents across-the-board. In other words, self-service has been put on a (rather high) pedestal, but the benefits they bring can be quickly marred when brands use the technology at the wrong time and in the wrong places, which can be a huge turn-off for customers.

For example, imagine you’re a consumer that reaches out to a brand as your order is a week late and looks like it has been held up in transit. You go to reach out to the brand for some support, but you struggle to find any contact details on their website. You then go to the pop-up option at the bottom of your screen, to be greeted with an automated, self-service chatbot.

You provide your information and details of your order, but the chatbot is only able to tell you that your order has been dispatched. It then directs you to the company’s FAQs, which then leads you back round to the chatbot. As the consumer, I end up becoming incredibly frustrated and my view of that brand is likely to become tarnished as a result.

While a superficial example, it is a common one and shows us that, if brands place too much emphasis and value on self-service, encourage deflection and avoid customer interaction at all costs, you’ll also likely discourage customer engagement and erode trust in the long-term.

Getting deployment right

There is often a misnomer that consumers hate chatbots entirely. They don’t and in fact, our own data from over 3,000 consumers shows that only 21% believe that chatbots and automation waste time and don’t add value – nearly 80% of consumers believe chatbots and self-service technologies bring some benefit. However, frustrations start to creep in, as in the above example, when deployment isn’t done right.

Whether you are a brand that is looking to implement self-service technologies or a company that is looking to rethink its chatbot strategy as you’re noticing lower customer satisfaction levels, the key is getting the execution right.

Good customer service is about tailoring your approach to the customer – not forcing them to do what’s best, cheapest or easiest for you. This means that the number one rule for introducing a chatbot to your support suite is to always have an agent available to take over from the bot, just in case the customer needs (or wants) to speak to a human.

In other words, chatbots and self-service technologies shouldn’t replace live agents, but they can act as excellent additions to your team when introduced in a strategic and thoughtful manner. By getting this dynamic right, your customers will appreciate how customer service chatbots provide quick, efficient resolutions to their questions and concerns. Meanwhile, your agents will stay focused on complex customer service challenges instead of answering frequently asked questions. And you will easily scale support to handle any influx in cases, whenever they come your way.

Getting self-service right in 2022

When done right, chatbots can improve your customer experience in a major way. They can take care of repetitive, low-value questions like refund or order status requests and give your agents more time to focus on complex issues that require empathetic human responses.

However, at some point in the future, the tech should be able to replace most – but not all – humans that work in customer service today. Any deployment needs to ensure it gets this human/tech balance right, otherwise you risk the foundation of trust and retention that are so important for building brand loyalty.

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