Chatbots may be the key to delivering fast, consistent customer support, but only if they can win over skeptics. Automation has a bad reputation for adding hurdles to the customer experience; yet the new breed of intelligent virtual agents uses detailed customer data to provide human-like responses in interactions that don't require a real person. Companies that use virtual agents to aid, rather than replace, human representatives could take the lead in sales.
Whether they realize it or not, most consumers have communicated with chatbots at some point. Chatbots, or chatterbots, rely on artificial intelligence to simulate human speech patterns, learn from past interactions and improve their responses to customer questions. Bots are everywhere: real-time chat support, games, messaging apps and telemarketing robocalls. While most chatbots are easy to distinguish from a human, developers are getting better at creating bots that behave realistically.
Using Data to Manage Customer Relationships
Chatbots may never have the ability to solve complex problems as well as a human, but they can effectively handle the high volume of basic questions most businesses get every day. Customers want timely assistance, and they get frustrated if it takes too long to find answers. Even when customers have positive opinions of a company, they quickly spread the word about poor service. In a 2016 Forrester report, 39 percent of respondents said they tell family and friends about negative experiences with their favorite brands.
Customer service teams can shorten response times when virtual agents take care of lower priority support requests. The downside of AI chatbots is they depend on a high-quality quantity of data for machine learning, so virtual agents need rich databases to mimic human patterns of thought. Fortunately, companies can collect data from many touchpoints, including website visits, checkout behavior, phone calls and live chats. The more information businesses gather about common questions and problems, the easier it is for chatbots to meet customer expectations.
Balancing Customer Service Costs and Performance
Consumers are increasingly using digital channels, such as SMS texts, live chat and mobile apps, to get customer support. They expect businesses to value their time, and they want consistent, personalized experiences across all platforms. Too often, customers deal with delays as they wait for different representatives and restate their issues over and over again. Chatbots can remove many of these hiccups from the customer journey and cut costs for businesses.
Programming chatbots to determine which situations require a human representative allows a business to reserve staff members for requests where they're likely to have the most impact. Every successful interaction improves customer retention while ensuring the service team is never overwhelmed by a high volume of requests.
Beyond speedier processing, virtual agents can eliminate dead ends and make sure customers get connected to the right representatives the first time around. In many cases, customer service staff have fragmented information about customer accounts. Supplied with information across all company databases, virtual agents have the potential to make better judgment calls than their human counterparts and resolve inconsistencies before they cause more delays.
Virtual agents may affect customer service jobs in the short term, but smart businesses understand the importance of building authentic relationships with customers. As more chatbots relieve frontline staff, businesses can focus on delivering meaningful interactions where it matters most.
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