Why Chatbots Are Not the Future of Customer Service

Think back to 2016, when chatbots were the next big thing. Facebook was about to launch its chatbot technology, and Google would soon follow suit. At the time it felt groundbreaking for the customer service industry. Artificial intelligence finally delivered a meaningful way to improve customer experiences and drive down costs through interactive, text-driven automation.

Yeah. So much for that.

At their core, chatbots are artificial intelligence platforms designed to engage with customers through text and speech. Chatbots have grown to be seen by many as an indispensable tool within customer service strategies. The functionality of chatbots and their interfaces have evolved. As machines continue to get better at writing like humans, practically every industry has adopted the technology to meet the round-the-clock expectations of customers. It feels like you're behind the times if you don't have a chatbot to answer questions 24/7.

Yet the promise of chatbots remains unfulfilled. Tech giants like Facebook have swiftly shut down their virtual assistant projects. Microsoft axed its earliest chatbot after it started spewing racist remarks on Twitter. No single chatbot platform dominates the market, and many customers still get frustrated when faced with a chatbot instead of a real person. It's becoming increasingly evident that chatbots are not the future of customer service.

The problem with chatbots is that most don't work. According to a recent report, 38 percent of customers believe chatbots don't relate to their issues. Even the most conversational chatbots have major limitations. The biggest one is that they fail to solve most customer queries. Most chatbots only answer straightforward factual questions before a human agent needs to step in. Despite the constantly improving nature of artificial intelligence, many chatbot platforms fail to integrate well with legacy systems. These problems are enough to put some customers off for good. Some 73 percent of Americans refuse to use a chatbot again if they've had one bad experience.

According to Acquia's Customer Experience Trends report, 75 percent of consumers also think that automated chatbot experiences are still too impersonal. Rather than making customers feel valued, chatbots tend to frustrate them, probably more so knowing that companies would rather have you speak to robots than take the time to answer queries themselves. Is that how you treat valued customers?

According to Accenture, 91 percent of consumers are more likely to shop with companies that recognize their customers, remember their preferences, and provide relevant offers and recommendations. This suggests that business leaders should focus more on delivering personal attention to every query in the hope of boosting retention and loyalty. Is there any room for chatbots in that equation?

Personal attention can start with things as simple as remembering a customer's name. In fact, you can take this personal touch further by remembering a customer's name as well as a history of his queries. Say, a customer initially spoke to a chatbot and was then transferred to an agent. Simple things like not needing to repeat the grievance can go a long way. This reminds customers that you're human, which is exactly what they wanted after dealing with unemotive chatbots.

Don't get me wrong. Technology will still play a part. An omnichannel customer service solution is probably the most impactful way to achieve personalization. An omnichannel desk is a platform that consolidates communication channels and organizes support requests. So, even if a customer contacted you via email, there should be a clear track history within the omnichannel platform that can show all past interactions, which agents were involved, and which action was taken.

There is still a place for artificial intelligence within quality customer service. An AI assistant, for example, can aid customer service representatives when speaking with customers over the phone. The AI system can search for and provide resolutions while allowing the agent to deliver the personalized answer.

AI can also do a lot more than help agents answer queries. Reporting and data analytics collected from past interactions can help agents predict future issues and better prepare for resolutions. Making data-driven decisions can make a big difference, as research has found that data-driven organizations are 23 times more likely to acquire customers. This uber-focused and AI-powered data reporting is much easier thanks to data collection through an omnichannel platform.

Improving Customer Experience

The speed at which customer service queries are resolved is another huge factor. Responding quickly means that you're meeting customer expectations. Plus, who needs a chatbot when a human being can provide a better response just as quickly?

Internal communication channels, such as Slack, Trello, and other workflow management tools, are great for customer service agents and help deal with queries quickly. For example, if a customer service agent requires authorization from a manager to offer a discount, a quick Slack message should reduce waiting time.

In fact, you can even improve on that by using APIs to reduce the time your agents spend switching between platforms. Slack's API allows you to build integrated workflows so repetitive tasks like gathering customer feedback from surveys becomes more streamlined. Agents will get a notification on Slack when a customer survey is submitted, which can then automatically be added to a spreadsheet.

So if chatbots aren't the future of customer service, then what is? Taking a human-focused approach is a great starting point. By providing your agents with access to the next generation of customer service technology, you're giving your customer service team the focus and dedication it deserves. The winners are your customers who don't have to worry about receiving generic responses from automated chatbots before taking their business elsewhere.

Niraj Ranjan Rout is founder and CEO of Hiver, the Gmail-based customer service solution.