I get by with a little help from a chatbot

Johannesburg, 05 Apr 2019
Read time 4min 50sec
Arun Pattabhiraman, vice-president for growth and marketing at Freshworks.
Arun Pattabhiraman, vice-president for growth and marketing at Freshworks.

Everyone can think of a time when the quote: "If you want something done right, do it yourself", was accurate. That's because people like to help themselves. We experience a rush when we fix things, solve problems and don't have to rely on someone else to find a solution. But we'll also ask for help when we need it.

There's a growing "do it yourself" approach in customer service. If customers have a problem with a product or a question about a service, they'll try to find the answer themselves before reaching out to a customer service agent. One study found that 91% of people would use self-service support if it were available; 40% check for self-service support before calling a support number; and 75% think that self-service is a convenient way to resolve a support problem.

This suggests that by the time customers reach out to a support team, they're probably already frustrated and want the problem solved as quickly and seamlessly as possible. But things get messy when they're shunted from pillar to post and have to repeat their problem every time they speak to a different agent on a different platform.

Multichannel vs omnichannel

This multichannel approach to customer service creates a disjointed, unpleasant and inconsistent brand experience, says Arun Pattabhiraman, vice-president for growth and marketing at Freshworks. "Multichannel engagement means using different communication channels to interact with customers separately. So, when a customer starts a conversation on social media and then switches to a call centre, he has to explain everything all over again, rather than picking up where he left off."

With a trend towards real-time customer service, facilitated by evolving self-service touch-points like live chat, chatbots and useful content, such as videos, FAQs and tutorials, a multichannel approach is no longer feasible, says Pattabhiraman.

"Businesses need an omnichannel approach that provides an all-encompassing, unified look at sales, marketing and support, and creates a single experience across channels and devices. It lets customers easily reach the support team from wherever they are, using whatever channel they choose, with no disruption when they switch between channels and mediums."

With omnichannel, the aim is to be everywhere your target audience is and to capture as much customer data as possible in one central location.

Rise of online self-service, online chat and the bots

Customer service is ultimately about helping people to solve problems. But the challenge, says Pattabhiraman, lies in meeting customers' increasing expectations to provide the tools, resources and content that help them solve problems themselves.

"People don't always want to speak to another person and are happy to have their needs attended to by a chatbot, if it means their problem is solved quickly the first time. Online chat, whether facilitated by humans or bots, has numerous benefits. The biggest benefit is that companies can proactively discover customer pain points and solve those problems faster, which improves customer satisfaction and loyalty, drives sales and reduces expenses.

But there's a time and place for both, says Pattabhiraman. Simple, frequently-asked questions, such as: "What's my account balance?" and "Where's my order?", can be answered in seconds by chatbots. Since the support team no longer have to deal with these types of time- and resource-consuming queries, they can focus on dealing with real problems, such as: "You didn't deliver my wedding dress on time." Issues like these require a sympathetic response, which chatbots are unable to provide.

Hybrid approach

For Pattabhiraman, a successful chatbot strategy hinges on knowing how to deploy bots for basic questions, when to shift the query to live chat if it's a more complex issue, and how to start planning for the unknown future of customer service.

"Chatbots cannot replace human-based customer service," he says. "Customers need to be aware that they're not speaking to a human. But chatbots don't need to simulate humans to be successful as they typically handle first-level queries really well."

The one area in which chatbots fall short is where human emotion, such as empathy, is required. That's why businesses should adopt a hybrid approach, says Pattabhiraman. "The customer support strategy should clearly outline when a chatbot should escalate a query to a live agent, such as when a request is unclear or when the customer appears annoyed, when the request cannot be handled in self-service due to rules or policies, and when the request relates to conversion or attrition."

Whatever the case, the live agent should be able to instantly see what the problem is and seamlessly take over resolving it from the bot, rather than having the customer explain everything again.

He stresses that omnichannel engagement should never be about replacing human agents, and it never will be.

"While customers love using self-service options for basic needs and information, they still prefer speaking to a human over the phone for more complex problems. Although self-service has changed the role of customer support, a contact centre and well-trained sales and service representatives remain as important to success as ever."

To learn more about how to implement a successful omnichannel customer engagement strategy, click here.

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