Does Your Company Really Need a Chatbot?

A Chatbot or — automated conversation systems — have become increasingly sophisticated. If you’re an executive deciding on whether to implement for your business and possibly feel caught between the AI hype as well as the fear that machines might not treat your customers right, take a read through some key benefits and steps to help you decide.

Fundamentally, chatbots are a broad category that includes everything from Amazon Alexa smart speakers to automated text chat on a company’s customer service page. The most powerful chatbots — and the ones that can actually make an impact on customers’ experience and company bottom lines are also known as virtual agents. Typically, these are chatbots powered by an artificial intelligence that can understand and answer a wide variety of customer questions.

Like all successful automation efforts, customers service chatbots can reduce costs, but the improvements they make in customer experience are far more impactful. As an example, bots are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and often answer customers’ questions more quickly than human agents can.

At the car rental company Avis Budget, for example, virtual agents were able to identify and automate 68% of service calls. Just as Web automation in the 90s and mobile apps in the 2010s improved customer convenience, properly designed virtual agents can improve customer satisfaction.

Is a customer service chatbot right for your company?

Virtual agents are most effective in customer service applications in service-heavy industries like financial services, retail, travel, and telecom where there is a high influx of customer queries or calls. But more and more smaller companies are seeing the unique benefits of implementing a virtual agent to their staff compliment as it allows for their human counterparts to focus on more complex tasks.

Consider channels carefully

Conversational platforms get all the press these days. Facebook and its Messenger application are ubiquitous. For some relatively simple customer service applications, these platforms are ideal. 

Some companies can, however, improve their service levels by serving customers on these broadly deployed platforms using a chatbot. If you’re dealing with a heavy load of calls that aren’t associated with a customer accounts, this strategy makes sense. But typically, the harder problem — and the one with the broadest impact on your business and on customer experience — is serving the customers who you already have a relationship with.

Serving those customers works far better right now in an environment where you have complete control. Your chatbot may not be instantly available in every conversational environment, but serving people on your site or app will deliver a far better experience. More importantly, you’ll have done the hard work of figuring out how to recognize the customer’s intent and respond to it. When, eventually, conversational platforms like Alexa, Google Home, Apple Business Chat, WhatsApp, or Facebook Messenger finally solve the authentication and privacy problems, you’ll be well-positioned to port your virtual agent to their environments.

Get started

To deploy a chatbot, first, prepare your systems. Chatbots or Virtual agents are hampered in recognizing a customer’s intent if they aren’t wired into the systems of record that hold your customer information. At one hotel chain we worked with, it took a decision at the highest executive levels to persuade the IT folks to open up their systems to virtual agent interfaces. Unless your systems are ready, the success of any potential virtual agent system is limited.

Start with small pilot projects where you can demonstrate success. Finally, remember that virtual agents improve over time. The number of intents they can recognize will expand as your company identifies which questions are still getting handed off to human agents. A virtual agent system will keep getting better — especially if you’ve set it up in the right application, with the right objectives, and in the right channels to maximize success.

The decision to deploy virtual agents can be complex. Even so, we think this sort of conversational interface to companies is destined to displace the current app and Web interfaces over the long term, simply because it’s faster and in many cases, better for the customer.

The Advantage

Keep your communication with your customers strong and personal and most importantly, engage with them in THEIR channel of choice. You can easily do this using the conversational platform and ultimately enhance customer experience by using responsive chatbots and other tools. It all starts by consolidating your existing communication channels into one and ensuring a better response time, a better resolution and a happier customer.

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