Almost three quarters (72%) of executives working in customer service believe that their company could benefit from the use of chatbots according to new research from SAP. Even the sales (45%) and marketing (42%) departments believe that they could get a boost by using more chatbots.
The critical issue to my mind is the quality of the customer experience. The use of chatbots may make it cheaper to serve customers, particularly if interactions are deflected and never reach the contact centre, but does the customer feel that they still have a good experience with the brand? In addition, by reducing the amount of human-to-human contact are you missing out on all those opportunities to offer the customer some extra products?
I remember reading research from Gartner back in 2011 suggesting that by 2020 around 85% of all customer interactions will be automated. Clearly we should not believe that research – Gartner was focusing on what should be possible rather than what is really happening. In any case, what is technically feasible may not be at all desirable for the organization.
Chatbots and automation is a useful tool for customer service, but care needs to be taken to ensure that it improves the experience for the customer. For example, as this Harvard Business Review article suggests: “Chatbots can’t provide the human reasoning needed in diagnosing a customer problem, understanding the mistakes that might have been mishandled by several different departments – and ultimately finding the solution.”
This research by Bain & Co indicates why you need to think carefully about the customer experience – you cannot create a loyal customer if you do not focus on the experience they have with your brand. Chatbots are extremely useful tools for fairly simple transactional queries, but they cannot be rolled out as a solution for all customer questions.
The SAP research I mentioned earlier also mentions some of the issues: “A lack of human finesse [by chatbots] was the single largest barrier to entry amongst survey respondents, with 66% of the professionals polled stating that making chatbots more human posed a significant challenge. Other top challenges and concerns included development and maintenance (35%), finding the right balance between human-based and chatbot-based interactions (33%) and cyber security (9%).”
The Customer Experience expert Shep Hyken recently wrote an article that summarizes many of my own views on achieving a balance between the human and chatbot experience. He said: “There needs to be a balance between the digital and human experience. A total digital experience is not always possible. If a customer needs support, a chatbot may not have all the answers. The best chatbots have been programmed to understand when it doesn’t have an answer or the customer is confused. At that point, the chatbot moves the customer from the digital experience to a human experience, as it seamlessly switches you to a human to continue the conversation. That’s the way it should work – just at the right point, moving to the human experience. That’s balance.”
One of the real benefits of getting the balance right is that it works better for your customers – if they can get simple problems fixed immediately 24/7 then that works better for them – and it works better for your customer service team. If the team can forget about the routine questions and just focus their time on more detailed, complex, and interesting problems then that makes their work environment more enjoyable too.
Martin Wezowski, chief designer and futurist for the Chief Innovation Office at SAP, thoughtfully shared this comment in an article I read recently: “Once AI-based systems take the weight of routine off employees’ shoulders, we will be able to be more social, more human, and more inventive.”
That’s the real goal. As Martin says, we can use digital systems like chatbots to actually provide more human service to customers. If we carefully balance what works well with bots then the human team can do their job better than ever before.