A quick search in your favorite engine and you will find countless articles about the rise of the chatbot. These articles will talk in detail about the inevitable automation of mundane customer interactions. They will detail the latest movements in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Sentiment analysis and how big data and analytics are empowering organizations to take the leap into serving their customer with a Bot.
Whilst I agree that the general technological movement is indeed enabling forward-looking brands to consider Chatbots and Virtual Agents as a viable alternative to people, I want to add a note of caution.
Many brands are looking to Chatbots as the next logical way of saving money on customer service. We started in-house, leading to Onshore Outsourcing. Price pressures led to Offshore Outsourcing. Continued competition and price pressures led to low-cost locations such as India and the Phllipines becoming the areas of choice for cost-conscious service. Now Chatbots are the next step. In many minds, humans continue to be too expensive, no matter where they live. Plus the fact that Chatbots don't need holidays or coffee breaks, they don't suffer from tiredness, don't have complex things called moods and can handle many customers simultaneously. What's not to like ?
Well, the cautionary part of this tale is that any brand that wants to deploy a Chatbot successfully and effectively, really needs to have the basics in place first. They really need to have nailed their human-powered service first, and take the lessons learned into a Chatbot deployment. It is a waste of time and money, and worse-still, hugely damaging to your brand, if you just deploy a Chatbot with little or no consideration to how it will affect your customer experience.
5 pointers for Brands considering a Chatbot;
- Ideally be very data-savvy, really understanding what call drivers they have, and what the root-cause nature of those calls are, and consequently what call-types should be modelled into the system.
- They should have an organization structure that can support the deployment of a Chatbot - don't allow it to be an IT decision with minimal involvement from those at the front-line.
- Align with an expert vendor who can help navigate the complexities*, from an operational as well as a technical perspective. There are many vendors out there who can provide the tech, but ultimately don't care whether it's successful for the client's end-customer.
- Understand that a Chatbot deployment is not a "fire and forget" technology play, there is an ongoing operational overhead to ensure that it continues to represent the brand as effectively as the human team. Even AI/Machine Learning powered Bots need teaching, nurturing, tuning, informing - much like a well-run human team.
- Bots should be seen as supplemental to other parts of an Omni-Channel support strategy.
*BTW, 3DZ do not build Chatbots, but we do know a thing or two about them
Chatbots are, without doubt, a powerful tool - if deployed for the right reasons, at the right time, and in the right way.