Chatbots are an ubiquitous tool in many companies’ customer service strategy today. It’s not hard to see why — they are extremely cost-effective, and can generally resolve basic customer issues any time of the day. More sophisticated AI technology and the availability of customer data can reinforce the benefits to both companies and customer experiences.
On the other hand, chatbots have their downsides. Many have criticized their use as clunky, impersonal, inaccurate, and even “creepy.” An opinion piece went as far as to claim that the technology was “killing customer service.” And how about a few years back, when Microsoft’s AI chatbot made big news after Twitter users taught it to become racist?
Clearly there have been hurdles. So how are companies reconciling chatbot technology today?
The real problem with chatbots is…
…Untempered expectations. Companies and consumers often expect more of chatbots than what they’re actually capable of. Take this definition from tech giant Oracle:
Chatbot — “A computer program that simulates and processes human conversation (either written or spoken), allowing humans to interact with digital devices as if they were communicating with a real person.”
That kind of definition presents an unrealistic idea of what the technology is capable of. Even the least tech-savvy person will be able to tell if they’re speaking to a bot or a real human agent. Customers already take issue with human agents who stick to the script like…well, a robot. Using an actual robot is almost a courtesy after that. The tech simply isn’t sophisticated enough to pass as human, and it won’t be for a long time.
Consider the hype a few years back that predicted chatbots would basically render human customer service obsolete. In hindsight, that was a dramatic overstatement. Chatbots are still important in many customer service strategies, but not nearly to the degree people expected.
At best, customers appreciate chatbots almost as much as human customer service agents, and only in certain instances. In fact, the whole brouhaha over bots actually highlighted the importance of human interaction in customer service, especially when resolving complex issues.
Three things that can make chatbots better
Chatbots aren’t a lost cause, by any means. But companies need to understand the technology’s limits in order to maximize its potential.
1. Use them to complement human customer service, instead of replacing it
As things stand, the best way for companies to leverage chatbots is to help make the customer service operations more efficient, and that means using the technology to augment human agents. Take the company Intercom, for example. Every anonymous call they received could either be a current customer, or a potential one. This made lead qualification difficult — every caller ran the risk of getting sent to the wrong department, an inefficient and time-consuming process that didn’t benefit either party.
Adding a bot that asked whether a customer was current or not allowed the company to make the process smoother. Since people were quickly directed to the correct human agent they needed to speak to, the overall customer experience significantly improved as well.
2. Chatbot functions should be clearly defined
Intercom’s use of chatbots is also a good example of how clearly defining what the technology needs to do can work wonders for everyone involved. The function of Intercom’s chatbot is simple, but it became an important cog in how the company interacts with potential and current customers.
Part of clearly defining a chatbot’s functions also means that there is an escalation process in place — bots can help with basic issues, but there should also be an easily accessible option to talk to an actual person, especially when the customer feels that the issue warrants more than a routine response. This mindset also helps prevent brands from making chatbots bite off more than they can chew.
3. You can use the data to improve the data in a positive feedback loop
Data in today’s tech landscape is the new gold standard. Chatbots naturally gather CX data from customers, and with the help of AI and Machine Learning, that data can form a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop.
Scripted dialogue can be designed in such a way that customers provide insight just by engaging with the bot; for example, questions asking about what product a customer is calling about can help brands identify which of their products or services are being mentioned, and how often.
At the same time, companies can use conversational data to improve the chatbot’s Natural Language Processing, allowing it to become more intuitive and human-like. This makes it more approachable for customers, which not only benefits CX overall, but has the potential to open new avenues for customer data collection.
Bots don’t rule the world…yet. So the important thing to remember is balancing their use with human oversight. Chatbot’s benefits may not be the future-forged, chrome-plated stuff of science-fiction, but companies using them still have a strong operational advantage over those that don’t. As long as companies understand what the technology can and can’t accomplish, understand customer needs, and how chatbots can fill those needs, their use will serve both brands and customers alike.
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