They seem to be the buzzword of all marketing and communications teams at the moment. Businesses are looking for ways to improve efficiency as well as offering a better customer service to their often ever expanding customer base and needs.
Every business, either public or private, have their own culture, therefore the introduction, or even conversation of chatbots can strike fear into the frontline services teams who manage day to day interactions between the business and the customers. It’s also important to note that for many businesses, chatbots may be years off even consideration due to the cost of implementation and even if there is a volume of engagement to even require one.
Because of this, three common themes arise when the conversation is brought up:
- Excitement and optimism that the customer experience and service offered can be improved
- Interest to how these new technologies and automated services can make their workload easier
- Suspicion that if the workload is drastically reduced that subsequent job loses will ensue
However, for many businesses, the introduction of chatbots are not designed to reduce staff numbers but more focussed on reducing the human interaction for mundane and repetitive enquiries giving more time for complex customer enquiries that require human creativity.
IBM, one of the big providers in the Chatbot services world through their IBM Watson solution state some interesting facts surrounding customer services and how chatbots can support the function. Notably, they state that businesses spend $1.3 trillion on 265 billion customer service calls each year and that the use of chatbots can reduce this by answering 80% of routine questions.
Overcoming suspicions of teams
Now, somebody in this line of work may think – “Oh my gosh!, that’s 80% less jobs”, however, if businesses redeploy or readdress their strategy, they can put this free time to good use. They may be somewhat correct, because the addition of the bots may mean a reduction in the number of agents needed in a department but it may also reduce staff turnover as there will be less repetitive calls and enquiries for them to field.
Firstly, this can be achieved through retraining staff to undertake more complex queries, maybe training them to become specialist product experts or engaging them more within the technologies behind the chatbot.
Secondly, using their core staff base to run the key operating hours of the business – being on hand to field complex queries received both during operating hours and the ones received outside of these. This way the business can operate their customers services on 24x7x365 basis, something which is becoming a perceived norm for the customer, without the huge costs of human agents.
To put this into context, you spend £100,000 on 4 agents working Monday to Friday 09:00 – 17:00 with standard annual leave. To expand this 24 x 7 x 365 with the same number of agents, it would increase your costs by around £300,000, something that many businesses just wouldn’t deem financially viable as the majority of their queries would come in during normal operating hours.
However, for a customer, the knowledge that 80% of queries could be dealt with at any time (with complex queries being dealt with the next day) may increase the likelihood of a transaction. Additionally, as these operatives are now better trained and are freed up from routine queries, they’ll have more time to support the complex needs of customers.
The final point is actually about team expansion. Instead of thinking that staff would be reduced, by making customer service easier, it can improve the business’ financial position as losing a customer is very expensive – both in terms of financial loss and the damage to the reputation of the business.
Critics of their usage
Conversely, Christopher Elliott, a contributor of Forbes online, states that chatbots might actually be damaging the customer experience and cites the annual Global Consumer Customer Service Report. He discusses how the customer frustration that can arise when AI cannot cope with complex questions, does more damage than making the customer wait for a human agent. Additionally, he remarks how it’s important to understand the audience as different customer groups will react differently to automation and chatbots. Finally, he stated how, although there can be frustration, chat functionality is the preferred option for simple queries, however, above all, customers still prefer human interaction.
Fuelling Business Growth
The Salesforce, ‘State of the Connected Customer’, second edition states that 80% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services, and 67% of customers are willing to ‘pay more for a great experience’ showing how the effective use of chatbots can increase sales.
If a business is expanding due to revenue growth and subsequently a growth in profits, it actually may want to expand its customer experience and operations teams, actually creating more employment in the area. Again, this may not be doing the routine enquires, but posts more focussed on experience, product expertise or customer retention, leading to the rebirth of customer services teams and what they offer.
Businesses need to also consider what they want to use chatbots for. From experience, although it may be ideal to have a ‘catch all’ chatbot for everything, actually you may be setting yourself up for failure. Depending on the sector, these needs will vary but the best place to start monitoring the current traffic and speaking to your stakeholders to see where they would prefer more efficient customer services and immediacy of response. Featured in Marketing Week, critics of the rushed implementation of Chatbots have stated how numerous chat bots have failed because “people spend too much time looking at the shiny new technologies when they don’t even have the right systems in place to make them a success”
For a University, the sector I work in, this might be on timetable updates or open day bookings. One of the leaders in the Higher Education sector for this is Gecko Engage who have developed a Chatbot which integrates all of a University’s channels and can link into the Open Day booking system allowing students to book onto open days or institutional events via almost any channel. For banks this may be dealing with suspect transactions, for airlines it might be about changes to departure times or gates and e-commerce retailer it may be updates on delivery times or product availability linking to the supply chain.
Chatbot usage in business
Sprout Social, the social media management software and solutions provider, created an excellent piece of content called ‘The Complete Guide to Chatbots in 2018’. From this, they shared three key facts about customer engagement and provided this really useful graphic about what the predicted use of chatbots is for the coming year:
– 2 billion messages are sent between people and businesses monthly
– 56% of people would rather message than call customer service
Sprout Social: The Complete Guide to Chatbots in 2018
– 53% of people are more likely to shop with businesses they can message
As you can see, they can link to almost any function, but understanding which is the most strategic is key for implementation. If a business is new to chatbots, it may be better to select a less strategically important area to trial and test with the expansion moving forward once the business has troubleshooted any issues, reducing the risk of damaging the reputation.
Obviously, these user cases are all externally focused, however, there is also an argument for large businesses with a high staff base who may want to use chatbots for internal communications.
Whatever the usage, I believe that chatbots are the rebirth of customer services and although there is suspicion around them, they are the future and it’s time for all stakeholders to engage in the conversation and work towards an integrated solution where all negative effects are mitigated and they are used for positivity and business growth.
Comment below and start the conversation, I’m interested to see how your business uses or plans to use chatbots. The opinions vary and I think the jury is still out to their usages within customer experience.
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