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The golden opportunity of chatbots

Karen Waters, Product Director at Engage Hub, looks at how chatbots can be used to improve customer experience.

The chatbot has come a long way since ELIZA was developed in 1966. Improvements in NLP (natural language processing) and automation mean that they are now able to engage in meaningful, flowing conversations with customers in real-time, delivering human-like interactions without the waiting times associated with contacting a call centre. As a result, all kinds of businesses are looking into how they can use chatbots to improve customer experience. But advances in technology does not guarantee success.

Why implement a chatbot at all?

The Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule, applies to customer service just as it applies to so much else. 80% of enquiries received by a customer service team will be on 20% of the topics they cover. Customer service staff may well be trained to answer a wide variety of questions and tackle in-depth inquiries, but the simple fact is that they will be answering the same questions again and again. This isn’t the greatest use of trained staff, and repetition like this can severely affect morale.

If these enquiries can be automated, then this can make a huge difference. It doesn’t have to be all of these routine enquiries – if half of the simplest enquiries can be farmed out to a chatbot then this can slash waiting times, improve morale, and make for an overall better customer experience. A chatbot can do what an online FAQ was supposed to do.

But it’s not just these simple enquiries that a chatbot can help with. First line support, for example, is usually a checklist of the most common and most easily-solved problems, a perfect job for a chatbot. It can also easily handle more complex decision trees – guiding a customer through more complex support more effectively than a troubleshooting document or staff working through a script.

These are the basics, but there are also opportunities beyond this to bolster the customer experience, such as offering recommendations based on a few questions or previous purchases.

Getting it right

Once an organisation has decided exactly how a chatbot can help, there are key considerations that will be the difference between success and failure, beyond technical integration. As with any new initiative, there needs to be clearly defined objectives that will determine whether it is a success or failure. Without metrics, assessing success can be swayed by such things as sunk costs. These metrics can be, for example, direct consequences of a better IVR system, such as cutting waiting times by 20%, or more indirect, such as increasing sales by 50%.

When will a human take over? Angry customers are not going to be placated by a chatbot – in fact, it will only make things worse. Similarly, anyone with a complex query is only going to be frustrated by a bot. The rules as to when a customer should be connected to a trained customer service agent need to be defined and refined as time goes by using data produced by the system.

Establish integrity. Consumers are used to being asked for their security details by a customer service agent. They may be more reluctant with a chatbot, whether using instant messaging or voice recognition. Your customers need to be able to trust a chatbot and this may not be immediate. This can be overcome by using tokens so that a Facebook account can be used for login (if using a chatbot that lives on Facebook).

Ensure understanding. Advances in technology are making it easier for chatbots to understand slang, strong accents, and even intent when the wording is unclear due to typos, spelling errors, or background noise.

Use your brand. A chatbot is an ambassador for your brand just as much as any customer service agent. This should be reflected in the bot’s tone, whether that’s through text or voice. There are people who can help chatbots learn both how to speak like your brand and better understand the most common enquiries. However, it’s important to make sure that customers know that they’re speaking to a chatbot. People don’t like to feel that they have been fooled and can find human-like behaviour from bots unnerving.

According to Oracle, around 80% of businesses will be using chatbots by 2020. Chatbots are an opportunity that shouldn’t be squandered and not a cheap replacement for customer service staff. Done right, they will give customers a much-improved experience and allow your staff to concentrate on the more complex queries.

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