It is shaping up to be the year of the chatbot. From Jarvis, Mark Zuckerberg’s Iron Man-inspired assistant, to Microsoft’s rather unfortunate Tay experience, chatbots have been making the news this year – not least in how they are playing an ever bigger role in customer service.
While there has been a lot of speculation about how chatbots are going to replace human agents in contact centres, we are still a long way from that scenario. Rather, they are freeing up humans and, somewhat counterintuitively, helping to deliver a more personalised experience. Automation in customer experience is all about making things faster, easier and more streamlined for customers – so we don’t have to repeat ourselves multiple times, and explain our problems to different agents every time we contact an organisation.
Pretty much any organisation today has some sort of customer experience process in place, and that process has evolved along with technology. From the traditional call centre, with rows of agents handling multiple calls, we have moved on to the contact centre, and multichannel communications, to what we can term the omnicentre, encompassing traditional and digital channels.
As organisations embark on digital transformation initiatives delivering an omnichannel experience – allowing for consistent customer experiences from multiple touch points, and enabling them to make contact via the medium of their choice – is an essential part of the transformation journey. Customers today expect to receive an always-on personal digital experience, and with 89 per cent of companies now preparing to compete primarily on customer experience, meeting that expectation is no longer optional.
The problem that customer experience professionals face is that there are just so many experiences – more than we poor humans can keep up with. Chatbots are increasingly being used to take away the menial tasks from agents, allowing them to focus on the human element that is so crucial to driving customer satisfaction and enabling them to provide better and warmer collaboration with their customers.
This will not only increase CSAT scores and boost customer loyalty, it can help improve motivation levels for the agents themselves, which will help reduce churn and eliminate the need to keep training new staff.
This will also allow organisations to essentially retain and boost service levels with fewer agents and reduced costs on the overall contact centre infrastructure. Today a contact centre’s costs are predominantly for agents and real estate; technology and process design and operations come in a late second from a cost point of view.
With a multichannel contact centre, the biggest challenge in delivering an awesome customer experience is gluing the pieces together: Linking the various knowledge and functional teams to customer service, delivering new capabilities and features that us, eventually, enable us as customers to call one time, and see our problems solved. This “first-touch” resolution wasn’t possible before and vendors that put together tools and technologies to achieve that, still lag behind.
And at heart, businesses are still providing customer service the same way: you initiate communication with the contact centre, and they respond, albeit now that can be done via phone, e-mail, text or social media. And, let’s face it, people still don’t like contacting customer service. We are still really reluctant to make that initial contact; we don’t get the “immersive” experience we seek as consumers.
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The application of artificial intelligence to deliver on the combined objectives of first-touch resolution and immersive experiences is almost complete. Chatbots are only the beginning of this brave new digital world. Our R&D and customer experience folks are finetuning a digital persona that is intelligent enough to learn from experiences, predict your preferences and resolve your problems – almost before you know you have them.
Ultimately though, whatever happens with the technology, one element is always going to remain human: The customer. We are all unique individuals, even if we tend to have similar issues and problems. The best service – the kind that boosts CSAT scores, inspires word of mouth reporting, and ensures loyal, happy customers – will therefore likely require a unique, human response. Chatbots and automation will play a key role in delivering that service – by freeing up agents valuable time to provide it.
Savio Tovar Dias is director sales engineering, Asia, Middle East, Africa & Turkey, for Avaya.