In a recent webinar outlining the 2021 megatrends driving customer service, Forrester VP and principal analyst, Kate Leggett, laid out the case for how the pandemic has drastically changed consumer expectations. And how capitalizing on these expectations with positive and dynamic customer experiences can dramatically impact top-line revenue.
Leggett specified that the expectation that any desired information or service should be available on any device during a customer’s moment of need is now essentially table stakes for organizations looking to excel at customer service. Regardless of whether you’re a legacy banking institution, e-retail giant or a public sector organization, if you want to retain and enrich customer loyalty, adopting technology to achieve these goals is a necessity.
Customer service technology, such as conversational AI and AI-powered chatbots, was ranked as the ‘top software priority over the next 12 months’ by 43% of key decision-makers surveyed by Forrester in 2020. This is up from 32% in 2019, closely followed by digital experience (42%) and customer experience tools (40%). What this clearly illustrates is that the ball has already begun to roll on the adoption of tech designed to meet the shift in consumer expectations.
While some enterprises sit on the fence, hesitating over what technologies to adopt or what strategies to implement, the market simply doesn’t care to wait and is forging ahead without them. Leggett outlined four key components to customer service success in 2021 and I’d like to share below how I believe conversational AI fits neatly into each.
1) The pandemic is driving companies to invest in new customer service technologies
Forrester notes that the pandemic has elevated customer service to a strategic role within many businesses and that this is accelerating investment in related technologies. Conversational AI sits at the forefront of this strategic change, with 2020 seeing the widespread adoption of AI chatbots and virtual agents by government agencies, healthcare providers and businesses in virtually every industry.
A driver of this is rapid adoption stems from advances by some vendors in self-learning AI – a nascent technology that dramatically reduces deployment timelines down to mere days, rather than weeks or months. By scanning and analyzing a company’s website (or even old chatbots), it’s possible to build a functioning virtual agent in a matter of hours, with the help of human QA supervision. This became crucial during the height of the pandemic as contact centers and branch locations were forced to scale down or close entirely due to lockdowns. Conversational AI presented a fast, reliable and cost-effective way to manage increased customer service traffic at scale.
2) Improve automation and AI to offload repetitive tasks from agents
Of course, getting a chatbot project up and running quickly is only the first step. The functional uses of conversational AI have also become more sophisticated, improving in parallel with the ability to deploy the technology quickly.
With the right solution, it’s possible to integrate conversational AI with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and provide complete end-to-end solutions for complex transactions that would normally require human involvement. A leading Nordic bank demonstrated this in 2020, when it fully automated the process of home loan forbearance to assist customers adversely impacted by the pandemic.
This was a crucial step towards not only empowering customer self-service but also reducing repetitive work that, while important, can take up a significant portion of a customer service rep’s day. Allowing a virtual agent to automate the bulk of this workload frees up customer support teams to prioritize and focus on more customer-centric inquires.
3) Empower agents with the right technologies for value-added customer interactions
Another key advantage of conversational agents for customer service is their ability to be deployed behind the scenes to help augment existing support staff and increase operational efficiency. Chatbots are often only considered for their ability to enhance customer-facing self-service, but that ignores the technology’s unique ability to empower human phone and live chat agents to better serve customers.
Companies ahead of the digitization curve employ a number of virtual agents – both internal and external – to handle a variety of different tasks, from providing response suggestions to allowing more efficient interfacing with knowledge bases and back-end systems. A prominent US credit union estimates that its internal-facing chatbot automates up to 2,000 employee-to-employee interactions per month and has a near-perfect approval rating from staff.
4) Invest in customer service software that will make your firm resilient and agile
The two main ingredients to a conversational AI solution being both resilient and agile are scalability and user-friendliness. That means avoiding simple FAQ chatbot platforms that can only answer questions on a limited number of topics. These seem like a good choice at first, but quickly begin to show their limitations as the needs of a business (and its customers) grow.
Take banks, insurance companies and any other large enterprises, for example. They often have complex product offerings and policy structures that make robust natural language processing and natural language understanding essential. Without a scalable foundation to build on, lesser chatbot solutions will easily trip up and result in frustrated customers.
By investing in a conversational AI platform that offers a broad scope and lets you build advanced virtual agents that can answer questions and automate actions on thousands of topics (while maintaining consistently high accuracy rates), you ensure that your customer service automation strategy works for the long term.
Similarly, selecting a vendor with a no-code interface means you retain control of the entire process. Instead of spending time and resources on data scientists or external consultants, consider empowering your existing customer service employees to train and maintain a virtual agent. It makes for more dynamic interactions and great customer experiences that your customers will respond to positively.