Can Chatbots Plug the Holes in Your Customer Experience?

2020 signaled a turn of the tide for many customer-centric organizations. Those that were lagging behind on digital transformation had to scramble to catch up as the world suddenly went virtual. Companies needed their technologies to support remote teams and, at the same time, to allow their contact centers to manage a massive upswing in customers requesting remote service.

Now, there's widespread realization that the demand for low-touch customer service is not just a short-term trend; it's the new reality. In this context, businesses need technologies that can scale to meet more sophisticated digital requirements as customers' expectations have evolved. Those that struggle to stay competitive in a digital-first world, particularly in the way customer experiences are delivered, will fall further and further behind.

Is conversational AI the answer?

Chatbots and virtual assistants have been hot topics of interest for some time now. Many businesses are attracted by conversational AI's promise of automating customer interactions to bring down costs and elevate productivity in the contact center.

Well-designed chatbots can handle routine customer queries with speed and efficiency, helping to improve response times and allowing companies to serve more customers virtually. For these and other reasons, Gartner predicts that chatbot adoption will increase by 100 percent in the next two to five years.

That being said, too many in-market chatbots fall far short of their full potential. To keep pace, businesses have to be laser-focused on the overall experience they want to deliver throughout the customer journey and map out the role automation will play in this experience.

Right now, there are three key areas where chatbots are falling short:

  1. Agility: Chatbots typically automate responses and execute transactions based on predefined rules. They're good at answering standard queries, gathering information into a form, checking account balances, scheduling appointments, tracking deliveries, and so forth. However, they're not human and, therefore cannot effectively manage exceptions when judgment is required. Chatbots have a role in completely automated journeys, and, vitally, they fill an extremely important role in partially automated journeys, recognizing when involving live agents will deliver superior outcomes.
  2. A clear understanding of intent: Most chatbots today can generally understand the content of routine customer requests but cannot understand these in the larger context of the customer's current situation. This lack of contextual understanding leads to customer (and agent) frustration, but, more important, this weakness can erode the confidence of your customers that your chatbot will be able to serve their future needs. Customers losing confidence in the capabilities will impair adoption, critically undermine the business case, and further pressure the contact center when the goal is to relieve stress on other service channels.
  3. Human communication skills: Many companies set out to create chatbots that replicate human conversation, using natural language interfaces. Unfortunately, today's AI algorithms cannot manage the nuances of language and communication that require human-like judgment and empathy. An over-ambitious approach can lead to disappointment for the business and its customers. A question all businesses should ask is, "Do our customers expect human characteristics as opposed to efficient and accurate exchanges?"

Digital automation (a chatbot) is critical to meeting consumers' expectations… but only if done correctly.

Like robots, chatbots are excellent at handling known tasks and, in doing so, offering the virtually limitless capacity to serve consumers at all hours of the day and night. But efforts to deliver automated experiences should be directed toward the right types of interactions or portions of interactions that represent tremendous convenience for consumers and can save substantial time, effort, and cost in serving customers.

Companies that seek to power meaningful customer experience improvements using chatbots should understand the key capabilities they require and the interaction types that hold the greatest opportunity for automation. Chatbots can provide a quick improvement opportunity, but they are not a magic bullet. The critical concept to remember is that only when chatbots are combined fluidly with other resources, like sophisticated AI and live contact center agents, does the real customer service magic happen.

Focus on the experience, not the tools.

One way to create a strong framework for low-touch customer service is to first focus on the dialogue with the customer.

It's not just about offering digital experiences. It's about naturally meeting customers where they feel safe and comfortable, in the channel they choose at that precise moment in time. That could be a messaging app like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, an online store, email, or even voice contact.

Focusing on the conversation means making sure that customers are connected with the most relevant customer service resource at the right time, whether digital or human. For example: chatbots automate routine interactions, human agents join the conversation when cases get complex, with AI understanding when to make that transition. This is the only viable model to ensure your agents are reliably available to serve customers when live assistance is required. It creates an effortless and positive customer experience that builds your customers' confidence in the capabilities of your service at each and every touchpoint.

With technology and humans working cohesively across all digital channels, it's possible to tie all customer data together to create one single source of the truth. This makes it easier to engage customers with a contextual understanding of their past interactions and intent.

Finally, digital automation must be agile enough to adapt as fast as customer demands evolve. To remain relevant, it should be easy to embed new and emerging technology to the professionals who are responsible for overall customer experience outcomes. Companies achieving the best results with digital automation (chatbots) have devoted the business resources to continually monitor existing flows and build incremental automated journeys when needs arise because they have the tools to control the automated flows. This will allow organizations to extend service to new use cases and touchpoints as they grow in popularity and withstand disruption from new digital-native market entrants.

Venky Krishnaswamy, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of Koopid.