Live chat in customer service has experienced continued popularity over the last several years. Why? Among the reasons cited by customers include all-hours availability and lack of a perceived hold time.
That popularity as a customer service channel along with ever-evolving technology has fueled growth in its automated equivalent: the chatbot. Gartner believes that by 2020, twenty-five percent of customer service and support operations will offer some form of chatbot. They also claim continued advancements in supporting technologies like natural-language processing, machine learning, and intent-matching are making chatbots significantly more useful for customers. Early results for companies using chatbots have shown reductions of up to seventy percent in call, chat, and email traffic; increased customer satisfaction; and cost reductions of up to thirty-three percent over voice engagement.
The problem? Neither human agent nor chatbot is perfect on their own; each has benefits and shortcomings. Together, however, they offer a powerful customer service combination.
Because their questions and responses are scripted, chatbots can respond quickly to customer inquiries. They can run through a decision tree and offer up canned dialog to quickly triage a problem and offer a known solution. With these common interactions already documented, some chatbots also offer simple click or tap selections for the most likely responses, saving the customer typing time. A human agent might have macros for some common exchanges but would be forced to type out most responses.
Chatbots are able to outpace their human co-workers because they deal with the known. But with their solutions coming from human-scripted responses or as a result of machine learning, a chatbot’s knowledge is limited to what has been previously solved. A human, on the other hand, can diagnose new issues on-the-fly. By asking questions, troubleshooting, and drawing parallels to other problems and solutions, they become the creators of new solutions that fellow human agents (as well as chatbots) can utilize. True artificial intelligence would make reasoning possible for the chatbot, but it’s not yet commercially available.
Customers want the right answer the first time they contact customer service. Clearly, chatbots perform well within the scenarios they recognize and know. If they lack a solution, the customer is left to explore other self-service options or to contact a human agent. While human agents are more adaptable and can address both common and new issues, new or unfamiliar issues might require asking fellow agents, performing some troubleshooting, or require offering a future callback when a solution is found. Human beings are also prone to making mistakes.
One of the greatest benefits chatbots bring to customer service is availability. They are ready for duty every day, all hours. They don’t require breaks or take vacation. They tackle high volumes of customer interactions with ease. Human agents work set hours, require periodic breaks, get sick, and take well-deserved vacations. While skilled agents might be able to handle multiple chats at once, this might impact their speed and accuracy.
The critical nature of one problem over another. Word choices made by the customer. A conversation’s overall tone. Customer interactions are more than a straightforward exchange at times, and these are a few examples of the subtle hints present in any interaction that can cause it to go well or fail. As the situation requires, human agents can adapt their tone and even go above-and-beyond what might be required in order to ensure the best possible customer experience. On the other hand, a chatbot follows a predetermined script and will miss out on any hints in the customer’s responses that might prevent an issue from escalating.
The order is a gift and might not arrive on time. Those missing parts mean the table won’t be assembled in time for the party. Why was a late charge being assessed if the payment was made on time? Nuance and sensing the customer’s sentiment leads to the need to show emotion and concern for the customer as needed. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines empathy as:
Understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner
Chatbots can be programmed to respond empathetically; however, customers may be insulted that a non-human being would feign this emotion. Human agents, on the other hand, share common experiences with customers and the connection is more genuine.
Customers expect fast answers at any time and from any location. Add to this customer service situations are diverse: problems can be simple or difficult, with layers of details and issues with some emotion thrown in. Human agents and chatbots don’t fit every scenario. The solution is to combine their strengths:
- Create chatbot conversations for the most common questions and issues across all communication channels. Chatbots can address easily address these high-volume issues ’round-the-clock.
- As chatbots can only address a finite set of problems and situations, ensure they can readily hand the conversation over to human agents with all the details collected to that point.
- Regardless if the customer comes to the human customer service agent first or is transferred from a ‘bot conversation, utilize the human’s strengths. Train and coach them to efficiently identify the subtleties of the problem, address any emotional issues, and diagnose and solve the new and complex issues.
- Just as human agents require ongoing training, continuously curate the chatbots’ available solutions. This ensures the most important solutions are always available to customers and are optimized to provide fast answers.
Online chat has quickly become an important customer service channel. By blending the skills of human agents with the benefits of chatbots a powerful and seamless customer service experience is possible!