It should come as no surprise that the buzzword “Customer Experience” – or CX – was born during the first eCommerce boom. The experiences consumers had on eCommerce sites during that prolific era varied greatly, and made or broke some brands. Since then, brands have made considerable effort and investments to improve CX by reducing friction and easing customer journey navigation.
Chatbots have played a key role in the CX movement. According to Gartner’s Top 10 tech trends 2019, “4% of Gartner clients today say that they use chatbots in the workplace, but 40% intend to implement them in the near term. That is not something to be taken lightly.”
Invented in 1966, the ‘mother of all Chatbots’ was called “ELIZA”. It used a very simple decision tree to simulate the experience of chatting with a psychotherapist. In 2009 the Chinese company WeChat launched the first chatbots for eCommerce that most users are familiar with today. Today’s chatbots interact through messaging applications, websites, mobile apps, IVR and other social channels. They can be easily integrated with IoT devices, AI or analytics platforms to send or receive information to improve CX further.
The way organisations use chatbots has matured considerably since 2009. The earliest chatbots were limited to simple decision tree questions and answers. However, as chatbots started to employ AI in 2016, they became more sophisticated. They started to recognise user intent and even serve as ‘intelligent advisors’.
Today’s chatbots now perform a diverse range of functions. This includes order processing, customer support, data-driven marketing, diagnostics, task scheduling and much more.
Chatbots in the age of COVID-19
During the COVID-19 lockdown customers struggle to get the support they need. As a result, service agents are having to adapt to working remotely and with fewer resources. This often results in long queues of support requests, unanswered calls or emails and delays in resolving customer queries. AI-enabled chatbots are helping businesses facing these challenges to optimise customer support. Chatbots are speeding up response times and addressing the bulk of customer queries in two categories:
– Critical and complex queries – chatbots can handle conversations at the start, then hand them over to a human agent. Great examples of these are healthcare-related queries and ad hoc requests to change an order – in fact, any interactions which aren’t rules-based.
– Repetitive and volume-based queries – for these, chatbots can handle the end-to-end interactions such as, checking an order status, placing an order, logging a complaint, enquiring about products/services, etc.
Chatbots provide an excellent way to ramp up customer resolution quickly. An AI-enabled end-to-end chatbot solution can be built and deployed in as little as five days. That’s an amazingly short amount of time to help customer service teams reduce stress levels and address customer requirements.
Chatbots in action at global manufacturer
We worked with a leading global manufacturer and distributor of high-end shower fixtures and fittings. The company’s call centre team was fully functional but time-limited (not 24/7) and was looking to enhance its customer services, support and sales functions. The company often missed customer interactions due to staffing constraints. It was also proving tough to generate leads and gain feedback on products and services from sources like social media and its other applications.
After a rigorous evaluation, we proposed to build an AI-powered chatbot based on Amazon Lex and supported by LivePerson to partially automate customer services, support and sales functions. The AI chatbot achieved the business benefits initially set out, including:
- 24×7 chatbot availability for customer support and service.
- Partially automated customer services, support and sales functions along with improved accuracy and efficiency.
- Integration with diverse data sources including inventory databases, the Salesforce database and knowledge bases.
- Proactive customer recommendations made by analysing historical data.
- Chatbot seamlessly hands over to human agents at the right moment by analysing sentiment.
- Agent and sales teams have access to deeper data insights through the chatbot interface.
While there are no fixed rules for when to introduce chatbots, there needs to be a “conversational platform strategy,” in order to successfully define the roadmap. This will help to set the right expectations with the business owner and achieve committed ROI. The two most pertinent points to consider are:
- Channels of interaction between the business and customers (both internal and external customers).
- Processes using the channels of interaction.
Once the channels and processes are identified and prioritised, according to customer requirements and business ROI, the technology team can identify the chatbot technology platform required. This will, of course, need to align with the organisation’s wider technology strategy.
Freeing up human operators to build loyalty
Chatbots fill an important gap in online service, offering customers that all-important ‘frictionless’ experience. Through natural language and AI-enhanced technology, chatbots can step-in. The technology can either support or replace routine interactions normally undertaken by human agents. Since chatbots don’t get burnt out handling simple, repetitive queries, they can perform these more efficiently than human operators. This frees-up humans to deal with more complex queries that rely on judgement and creativity. In addition to using the opportunity to build customer goodwill and loyalty.
Providing the right interventions at the right stage in the customer journey, will be vitally important in the post-COVID-19 era. As with the first eCommerce boom, the customer experience will be a major factor in determining the winners and losers.
Praveen Kumar leads the Innovation Lab and Customer Experience (Mobility, Chatbots, IOT, Blockchain) practice at JK Technosoft and is based in UK and Netherlands.
JK Technosoft (JKT), is a global IT solutions company and part of one of India’s largest industrial groups (annual turnover US$ 7 billion+). Over its 25 year journey, JKT has established exceptional customer guardianship by partnering and creating value. With more than 1500 people and three offshore delivery centres in Delhi NCR, Hyderabad and Bangalore, JKT serves global customers across the US, UK, Europe and India.