Chatting with bots

We've become accustomed to encountering chatbots online, but it's still early days for the contact centre chatbot in South Africa.


Johannesburg, 02 May 2019
Read time 4min 20sec
Arun Pattabhiraman, Vice-President – Growth and Marketing, Freshworks.
Arun Pattabhiraman, Vice-President – Growth and Marketing, Freshworks.

Today, customer experience is everything, and not only does it drive loyalty, research has shown that customers are willing to spend more with companies that provide an outstanding experience.

Given a choice, customers generally prefer to deal with businesses via e-mail or online. In this age of instant gratification, having customers wait to be assisted on the phone by a contact centre agent, while being told they're number 34 in the queue, is simply not good customer service.

To better manage unpredictable call loads and better route queries, we're seeing a rise in the use of chatbots in the contact centre. This trend is being driven by two primary factors, according to Arun Pattabhiraman, Vice-President of Growth and Marketing at Freshworks. "Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) as well as a growing preference for communicating via chat applications and messaging are both driving the increasing adoption of chatbots.

"Chatbots are becoming increasingly accepted within the contact centre environment, although there's still a percentage of clients who prefer to speak to a human."

A Deloitte study found that while voice was expected to remain the most prominent channel for customer interaction, chat and messaging were expected to grow from 6% in 2017 to 16% in 2019.

While chatbots are not yet commonplace in South Africa, with early adopters being primarily in the financial services and telecommunications industries, Pattabhiraman says SA's increasingly mobile-savvy consumers are driving the deployment of chatbots on mobile channels.

"More than half a billion people across the African continent subscribe to mobile services, a figure that's nearly doubled in the past two years. This number is expected to grow to 725 million by 2020. When you consider these statistics, it's clear why businesses are beginning to invest in chatbots to elevate their service experiences in the region."

However, building native chatbots, which are basically customised chatbots for each specific customer's requirements, is labour-intensive, but in the end, reaps necessary rewards for the business, its workforce and customers alike. Pattabhiraman explains. "A customer service chatbot that aims to deliver a good experience should be able to speak and understand the language of the customer. While crafting a multilingual bot requires additional effort, it's still more cost- and labour-efficient than staffing a contact centre around the clock with agents who can speak the various languages of customers. When you consider a country like South Africa, with 11 official languages, the challenge becomes apparent."

The whole point of using chatbots in the contact centre environment is to ensure a low-friction experience for customers. Chatbots have proven well-suited to standard question-and-answer conversations, which can then be channelled to a human contact centre agent, based on need.

Chatbots are able to elicit initial information from customers before redirecting them to the right human agent to assist them. In some instances, the chatbot can even resolve routine customer queries such as how to reset a password or update their contact details, freeing up human contact centre operators to handle more complex queries.

Having said that, more complex conversations with chatbots are gradually becoming a reality. The aim is to make contact centres more responsive and therefore improve customer service. This can be achieved by having an omnichannel environment that accommodates the twin challenges of the language issues and the people who still want to speak to a human.

Pattabhiraman continues: "We believe that the future of contact centres is better and faster customer service through the use of technology, while retaining the unique touch of a human connection. Chatbots, in congruence with live agents, can help get us there. If the capabilities of chatbots are combined with the emotional connection and elevated skill sets of human agents, you will have the ultimate super agent."

He identifies three industries that offer the best opportunities for chatbot technology to transform how customers engage with companies, brands and each other: "The retail and e-commerce, travel and hospitality, and banking and financial services sectors all have opportunities for chatbots to make a significant impact."

Looking ahead to the future of chatbots, Gartner predicts 25% of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology by 2020.

Pattabhiraman says: "On the operational side, bots have a similar value proposition to good old IVR (interactive voice response), such as saving costs while offering the additional advantage of being an engagement channel that customers enjoy. We definitely think this technology will survive the hype cycle, but it is really up to businesses to decide how they'll leverage this technology in the future."

Find out more about using chatbots to improve customer experience here.

Download the Freshworks Global Customer Engagement Survey Report here.