Digital Technology
Apr 20, 2018

Better customer experience through bots

​When machines do the drudge work, humans are free to add value

Imagine that you've just bought a new pair of running shoes on line. When you get the email confirming your order, though, you realize you've not only picked the wrong size, you've even entered the wrong shipping address!

You rush back to the website to try to change the order before it ships. You're grateful for the customer service live chat window that pops up immediately.

“Hi! My name is Pedro. How may I assist you?" the box on your screen asks. You explain the situation. “Sure, I'd be happy to help you change your order and shipping information," says Pedro. In a matter of seconds, he has updated everything, and your new running shoes are on their way. The entire customer experience was seamless, and Pedro was courteous — a consummate professional.

Except for one detail. Pedro isn't real. "He," or rather "it," is a virtual customer agent — a chatbot.

A new form of customer experience

Increasingly, companies are transforming the customer experience. They're doing so by design — using new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, and machine learning to encourage self service.

True, customers interact less frequently with real service agents. But these new encounters can still exceed their expectations. Breakthroughs in natural language processing (NLP) mean people can communicate with a chatbot as they normally would with a person: the system can understand and respond just like a well-trained agent. Yet chatbots can process information, find solutions to problems, and fulfill requests far faster than humans can.

As a system interacts with customers over time, machine learning makes it so smart, it can actually predict and anticipate potential customer issues. These elements all make for a superior customer experience. Customers quickly get what they want all on their own. And that leads to better retention and higher profits.

The human touch

As AI takes on more and more customer interactions, how will humans fit in this new self-service world? That was one of the main questions The Core of Great Customer Experience: Humans or AI? , a recent Gartner webinar, tackled.

Michael Maoz, the vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner who presented the webinar, shared the following predictions:

  • By 2022, 72% of customer interactions will involve an emerging technology like machine learning or chatbots.
  • By 2021, AI will completely handle 15% of customer service interactions.
  • Phone-based communication will drop from 41% to 12%.

Inevitably, then, AI and chatbots will replace humans on many rote customer interactions — the simple stuff —and that change is happening fast. They can attend to orders, reorders, cancellations, product information inquiries, user authentication, password resets, account activation, and account status updates.

But humans will still deal with interactions that automation can't address. People still surpass machines, for example, when decisions call for sound judgment, analysis, industry experience, and corporate and customer knowledge acquired over time.

In fact, one of the great benefits of AI is that it can free up people to better serve customers on more complex interactions. And AI can even act as an agent's assistant. It can manage knowledge to support people. It can put a customer's problem in context. It can even help determine the next best action.

Think of the Netflix model. Netflix collects data on members' viewing tastes to recommend additional content. In the same way, AI can provide agents with recommendations on customer wants or needs based on past behavior. In banking, for example, if a customer's balance is often dangerously low the system can prompt an agent to recommend overdraft protection.

The future of customer service will be a blend of AI for customer self-service, human customer service agents, and machines that help agents better interact with customers. The result is a much easier, faster, and smarter customer experience. It's up to each company to evaluate and identify the touchpoints to find the optimal balance.

This blog was first published in PNMSoft. 

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