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The sheer number companies that have invested in bots as a new channel for customer service has the industry in a frenzy, comparing it to the likes of the goldrush. This is intriguing, as brands are not usually so quick and willing to experiment with customer engagement through a new channel.
Facebook reports that more than 33,000 chatbots have been created on its platform. Respondents in a study by Business Intelligence - when asked which emerging technologies they were using and which they intended to implement – had 80% say that they already use or plan to implement chatbots by 2020. In addition, 42% of participants stated that automation technologies will most improve customer experience within sales, marketing and customer service.
The reason for this may be because basic AI has become such an integral part of our lives. In fact, most people would find it difficult to imagine living without smart devices, informing us of how long it might take to get to work, the weather or what music we might like to hear.
So, with bot technology the ‘golden’ opportunity the industry has been enabling us to do away with web and app communication interfaces, what does this really change and why should you care? Will bots make other customer contact channels redundant and how essential is it to invest in this new framework?
Once gold is found, hundreds of thousands flock together to share in its delights. However, Fool's Gold which invariably appears under the same conditions as gold, has often caused heartbreak with it being mistaken for the precious metal. With every other start-up claiming to be a bot expert, it’s not difficult to get caught up in the hype surrounding AI. But here’s the thing. Although natural language processing refers to one of the methodologies under AI, not all NLP technologies are classed equally. In fact, there are big differences between an intelligent FAQ search engine, chatbots and virtual agents.
Businesses wanting to include this technology in their customer experience strategy might first want to consider not ‘HOW’ to invest, but rather ‘WHY’.
Why not download some gold nuggets (whitepapers) which could help determine if you should invest in bot technology in the first place?
- Why a Virtual Agent is the must-have catalyst for enterprise business transformation
- Artificial Intelligence - The rise of customer experience
- Virtual Agents – To Bot or Not
I really looked forward to watching Wimbledon last week. Don’t we all love a good game? However, as a loyal fan, the nail-biting joy of watching tennis was spoilt for me, as I had to turn down the sound to be able to focus on the game rather than the disturbing noises made by some players.
This reminded me how some businesses on-board new digital service channels. They might deploy a new channel simply to keep up or intimidate the competition, but forget that their customers will be the ones using it. Businesses must be ‘present’ on their customers’ preferred support channels. But mere presence isn’t enough: customers expect their experience to be equally swift no matter the means they use to get in touch with a business.
Let’s leave the noise for the crowds.
In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.” – Jeff Bezos CEO of Amazon
The game of tennis bears many similarities to a business. Both are painful to watch when their performance isn’t up to scratch. And not being on top of your game can lose you valuable customers or fans.
Although the aim of the game appears quite simple – keeping the ball within the bounds of the court, but out of an opponent’s reach – the point scoring concept can make it hard for a new viewer to keep track of what is going on. And in business, on-boarding new digital channels for customer support might seem simple enough, but there is so much more to online support than just providing customers with a means to contact you.
Think about the last time you bought tickets for an event (maybe Wimbledon). Did you drive to the venue, maybe pitch a tent to wait in line for tickets, or did you register online to buy tickets and have them printed or emailed to you after a few simple clicks? If you’re like most people, the self-service online option certainly makes more sense. The same can be said about customer support. Overwhelming statistics across industries state that 81% of all customers prefer to self-serve answers to their support queries, before having to speak to an agent ~ Forrester
Forrester also reports the cost of a self-service query on average costs less than 10 pence, while the average cost of human aided support (phone, e-mail, or webchat) is more than £5.37per query for a B2C company and just under £10 for a B2B company.
Given the huge potential benefits with using self-service tools to enhance customer satisfaction and reduce costs, businesses have much to gain by implementing web self-service technologies. With major advances in NLP architype, self-service technologies have been enormously effective at removing low-complexity issues from the agent support queue.
But herein lies the challenge though: As customers self-serve simple issues themselves, frontline support agents get increasingly more complex queries and issues customers can’t solve on their own. So, what’s the problem?
Some companies that have focused on new self-service technologies, underinvested in agent support. With the absence of an agent knowledge-base supporting contact centre agents, inconsistencies in answers lead to both customer and agents getting upset and frustrated.
When agent numbers increase from 25 to 125 during the Christmas season, one of London's leading upmarket department stores are still able to maintain high levels of customer service. Using a Synthetix knowledge platform, temporary customer service agents can be trained rapidly, with the assurance that they are delivering correct and consistent information to customers over telephone and webchat channels.
Retailers of this type see a huge percentage of their online business crammed into six weeks each year, which makes its critical for their customer satisfaction rates to remain consistent throughout this surge during festive months.
Businesses that have invested in a contact centre agent knowledge platform have reported:
- Agent training times to be reduced by 30%
- Average call handling times to be reduced by 30% - 50%
- Call abandonment rates to be reduced by circa 20%
- Certain types of questions via telephone and email to be reduced by circa 80%
However, it’s important that your omni-channel game plan integrates digital support channels with each other.
Virtual Agent / bot
Remember when “there’s an app for that” was a popular catchphrase? Now, as customers’ smartphones fill up with apps they’ve only used a handful of times, and businesses try to reach consumers while they’re online, the zeitgeist has shifted to “there’s a bot for that.”
The most exciting thing about a bot or Virtual Agent as a medium, is allowing humans to step in when needed. Bots in themselves aren’t revolutionary – we’ve had phone trees and robotic dialogues for a while – but when paired with human intelligence for tasks a Virtual Agent can be a powerful tool.
Virtual Agents are not only upping the personalisation stakes. The hybrid approach of blending AI with human support enables contact centre agents to focus on complex customer queries and transactions requiring an emotive connection. A Virtual Agent, when deployed correctly, with a set of specific goals, can generate leads, increase sales, and grow a business in a big way, switching on an entire additional support channel, and this is only the beginning!
But don’t build a bot just to follow a trend; build a bot if it helps you solve a problem better, or get to market faster.
Implementing a successful omni-channel strategy is tricky.
In tech years - Synthetix are pioneers. We have been creating ‘New World’ customer experiences, revolutionising online customer service with our seamless integration of customer contact channels such as Virtual Agents, FAQ search, live chat and e-mail management.
We’ve put together a selection of concise resources to share our wealth of knowledge and best practice tips from our customers to cut through some of the hype surrounding new and existing online customer service tools.
Embrace the shift, don’t get left behind.
2017 is not quite half way and already this year has many of us concerned about what the future might hold after the UK general election. The volatile political events of 2016 appear to have dominoed into 2017, which has left many UK businesses in limbo – not wanting to make any drastic changes to processes or investing in new technologies - waiting to see the what impact the election results might have on the future of their business.
Another dominating topic in 2017 is AI. Like political ructions, new technology can create fear, uncertainty, and doubt, until we understand it better. But unlike politics, were we can choose who we support, or whether to cast or vote or not, we are parading inescapably into a new generation of digitally enabled customer experiences and there is no turning back. Waiting to invest in new customer engagement technology, could put you well behind the curve competing in a digital future.
Some leading organisations are already masters in this new world, already using AI to great effect or actively planning for it. But most organisations still find it difficult to imagine how AI with its hype and science fiction drama can bridge the gaps between a customer’s diverse interaction points to help improve their journey and experience with services and answers they need.
If you're reading this, there's a good chance you understand that consistently satisfying customer service is increasingly important as customer expectations are adapting and growing just as rapidly as the channels and technology consumers are now empowered to engage with.
Being open to new paths of communication, such as Virtual Agent technology, can up the personalisation and customer engagement stakes. Unlike the uncertain outcome of the UK general election and its repercussions, Virtual Agents, when deployed correctly, with a set of specific goals, can generate leads, increase sales, and grow a business in a big way, and this is only the beginning. However, just because Virtual Agents are part of the hottest topic of 2017, this does not necessarily mean it will be the right fit for everyone.
Self-service has become the long-term solution to meeting customer expectations. In a global report, ‘The Self-service Economy’, 70% of consumers expect a self-service option for handling commercial questions and complaints. And millennials especially expect companies to keep improving their levels of service, expecting everything to be just a click away - their social relationships, their retail relationships, even their banking and insurance relationships.
This isn’t a manifesto to try to convince you to invest in Virtual Agent technology, but rather to highlight how it can align with wider business objectives.
Standing still is going backwards
Synthetix are pioneers of Virtual Agent technology. However, all Virtual Agents are not created equal.
A Virtual Agent should not to be confused with a chatbot. A chatbot is mainly focussed on a single purpose, like providing simple answers in a very linear, single dimensional support. Less scalable and robust than a Virtual Agent, a chatbot might not a great option over the long term, as frequently they lack reliability, analytics, and learning.
The Chief of Facebook Messenger, David Marcus says that 34,000 bots have been created in the name of customer experience, since its launch. However, he acknowledges that many early offerings of chatbots are ‘really bad’.
So, what’s the deal with Virtual Agents?
A semblance of personal service, Natural Language Processing (NLP) - a component of artificial intelligence – a Virtual Agent can drive personalised customer experiences and increase engagement. Combined with a graphical representation, this is a powerful additional contact channel (not a replacement for human interaction). Virtual Agents can raise the online customer service effort bar, offering customers who wish to self-serve answers, in an engaging, appropriate, and conversational automated interaction.
The business case for the Virtual Agent is different to that of a humble, self-service chat-bot. A personalised, goal oriented answer engine, designed specifically, to deliver customer value in both sales and service engagements.
How can a Virtual Agent align with wider business objectives?
KPIs within the customer care usually comprise of reducing complaints, increasing the speed of response, and improving first call resolution. Virtual Agents can help achieve these objectives and more.
Just think about the tasks you could have Virtual Agents do. They can exercise predictive skills, knowing the intent of a question, and therefore predict the next. They could answer multiple questions, without getting annoyed, tired, and even with a sprinkle of humour. They can recognise the basic intent of the question and emulate human intelligence, making them capable of taking on a wide variety of tasks including to ‘decide’ to escalate or to fulfil a request.
Virtual Agents, if deployed in the right manner, can reduce support costs, encourage self-service, increase customer loyalty, and serve as a branding/marketing tool.
There’s a lot of shouting from the rooftops about how AI is the future and a lot of businesses are getting caught up in the politics – AI is killing apps, will take over jobs, change the world.
If Synthetix were in politics, we are convinced that our customers would vote for our seat in Westminster. However, we are fanatical about not just our clients, but we are advocates for the creation of exceptional customer service. In fact, with all this hype, we decided to collaborate with a trusted publication to clarify the subject of Virtual Agents in a very palatable, concise style, without the politics and drama.