Chatbots and Agents: The Winning Combination for Exceptional Customer Service

More companies are beginning to augment their customer service departments with a not-so-secret weapon for scale: chatbots. In fact, 80 percent of decision-makers say they already use or are planning to use chatbots by 2020. There is a debate, however, as to whether human agents will one day be replaced by bots and if not, how the dance between the two can best be orchestrated.

We hear quite a bit these days about customer service chatbots. Why? Because customer service organizations have been forced to rethink how they interact with customers. Consumers are increasingly leveraging social channels to engage with companies, particularly with apps like Facebook Messenger, which has more than 1.3 billion monthly active users.

Customers want a more personal and customized experience, and they want it on demand. To reach customer support in real time, 63 percent of people would consider talking online with a chatbot. However, 79 percent of people would need to know a person could jump in if the bot struggled. Customer service has thus shifted from simply resolving issues through traditional channels to building relationships via one-on-one conversations on customer-preferred channels. This ultimately improves the customer experience and inspires customer loyalty. 

The Customer Service Transformation

The volume of customer service inquiries and the newer channels that are enlisted require organizations to think bigger. In fact, an estimated 67 percent of consumers are now using social media networks like Facebook for fast resolution of their issues. This begs the question: how can companies respond quickly to customer requests while still providing the personalized service customers demand without dramatically increasing customer service headcounts? You guessed it: chatbots. 

Chatbots enable customer service teams to manage interactions at a granular level, using human agents for certain issues and chatbots for others. Chatbots and similar autoresponders make it easy for customers to get their routine questions and needs met expediently any time, day or night. Improving response times is critical, given that more than 60 percent of customers who use social media to engage with companies expect a response in less than one hour.

The purpose of chatbots is not to replace agents, but to improve response rates and provide more personal service when it matters most. Agents can be more productive when bots handle the large daily volume of mundane questions, so they can focus on the more complicated issues with greater care.  

Until you have the human agent/chatbot collaboration down, it can be difficult to imagine how this dance works. Make no mistake, human agents are most definitely required. Chatbots need human agents to guide them, place them in the right scenarios, and monitor their activity. The role of a customer service agent is actually elevated as they use their expertise to deploy a frontline army of chatbots to make their organizations more strategic with new developments in AI.

Automation is key to all of this. Live agents working with chatbots enable routine activities to be automated and important conversations to be prioritized.  When agents can determine which level of automation to use by conversation their sense of control increases and demands a valuable skillset. Facebook Messenger chatbots, for instance, can be programmed to defer or pull in humans in key moments, empowering agents to apply the right balance of human and digital interaction.

The Benefits of Human-Chatbot Integration

The ultimate beneficiaries of a perfectly choreographed human/bot waltz are two-fold. Customers get their answers and issues resolved faster, while customer service organizations are rewarded with loyal, referring customers.

On the customer service side, agents are not only necessary, but crucial to the success of the customer service experience. With chatbot armies handling routine queries, customer service agents become superheroes empowered to be more empathetic and thoughtful. Agents have a greater sense of autonomy and responsibility when they can orchestrate the level of automation engagement that will deliver the best customer experience, as they prioritize speed and empathy in each interaction. Agent efficiency is also multiplied when using bots to co-manage individual conversations. 

Agents aren't the only winners here. Solving customer issues on social media costs companies nearly one-sixth of what it costs on other channels. The entire organization stands to benefit as it can better serve an expanding customer base on the channels customers prefer. Research has shown that customers spend  20 percent to 40 percent more when companies engage and respond to them over social media. Also, companies gain added value via social media since 71 percent of consumers who experience positive customer care are likely to recommend them to others.

As automation tools become more sophisticated, customer service organizations will be able to handle larger volumes faster and with higher quality. Ultimately, advances in machine learning and natural language processing will help elevate customer service organizations to deliver enterprise value across the entire customer journey with real time, personalized resolution, and the ability to anticipate future needs. 

Jason Kapler is vice president of marketing at LiveWorld. Follow him @JasonKapler on Twitter.

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