Discover why customer service chatbots have evolved from novelty to necessity.
Posted February 13, 2017
In the past several decades, the concept of the “virtual assistant” has evolved from a novelty à la Clippy — the famously disruptive cartoon paper clip that appeared in early versions of Microsoft Office — to sophisticated and increasingly handy human facsimiles like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa.
As AI-powered virtual assistants, chatbots can do much more than simply set cooking timers and answer trivia questions. They can understand human speech and writing, as well as field questions communicated in conversational language. Given their expanded capabilities, an increasing number of businesses and contact centers are adding chatbots to their websites and social-media pages in an effort to improve customer satisfaction (CSAT).
While far from perfect, chatbots have the potential to make run-of-the-mill customer experiences feel seamless, painless and sometimes even personalized.
Chatbot convenience boosts customer satisfaction
The average tech-savvy consumer has no shortage of screens to look at. A recent study by Common Sense Media found adults spend over nine hours a day looking at various digital devices.
Peggy Anne Salz, lead analyst and founder at MobileGroove, believes that the prevalence of chat and text messaging has sparked the recent ubiquity of chatbots. “You reach a tipping point where there’s enough usage, that it becomes part of the routine,” says Salz.
Once a consumer has a few positive experiences communicating with brands via chat services, they’ll look for the same convenience in other interactions. Salz summarizes this customer mindset as, “I have this elsewhere. I want this everywhere.”
By providing customers with a line of communication that’s as frictionless as texting, businesses stand to make gains in customer satisfaction scores, while also keeping customers from jumping ship to a competing product or service.
Apple — which in January of this year announced its plans to enter the business-messaging field — is just one of many examples of businesses looking to capitalize on this growing consumer appetite. The company is paving the way for customer service bots powered by iMessage, its proprietary chat and texting platform.
Mike Gozzo is chief technology officer and co-founder of Smooch, a messaging platform that gives chatbot makers the ability to handle multichannel support. He sees Apple’s foray into B2C communications as transformative. “Imagine what happens when anybody with any device can have clear, reliable communication with businesses, and have full transcripts of those conversations,” says Gozzo. “It will reshape the way we interact with brands.”
Other platforms, particularly social networks, are also looking to take advantage of the chat revolution. Notably, 90 percent of people surveyed by Sprout Social said they’ve used social media to communicate directly with a brand. Bots are key to acknowledging customers’ queries around the clock, and to that end, Facebook has more than 100,000 active chatbots on its Messenger service.
Beauty retailer Sephora is just one of many brands who are utilizing chatbots on Facebook Messenger and competing app Kik. The chatbots’ functions include ‘manning’ the Sephora Reservation Assistant, which helps customers book in-store makeover appointments. Thanks to its slick branding, easy navigation, and a user’s ability to schedule a makeover in five fewer steps than in person, the Sephora Reservation Assistant supported an 11 percent increase in bookings during the busy holiday season.
Chatbots help create brand consistency
Even the most customer-centric brands can sometimes miss the mark when it comes to the service they provide. Business Insider’s 2016 customer service report noted that bad service experiences can have lingering effects, including brand aversion and the spread of negative feelings to friends and family.
In measuring the various points on the customer journey, management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company ranked consistency as the most essential factor in raising customer satisfaction scores. McKinsey noted that uniformity through all stages of the customer-brand interaction can increase CSAT scores by up to 20 points. With the right programming, chatbots have the capability to deliver correct and consistent responses to customer queries.
Chatbots can also learn how to speak in a brand’s unique voice. Take Staples, for example, which gave its signature Easy Button a mind of its own with the Staples Easy System. Integrated with Facebook Messenger, Slack, SMS, email and the Staples app, the Easy System gives customers multiple ways to interact with their brand. “Hi, tell me what you need,” says a friendly voice once the Easy button is clicked. After the customer requests a new shipment of blue pens or french-vanilla coffee pods, the system responds, “Got it. That was easy.”
Chatbots can even be used to help entertainers engage with their fans. Tim Hrycyshyn, senior director of digital marketing at music label Republic Records, has helped launch chatbots for several high-profile musicians, bringing AI-powered brand experiences to another level. “Typical businesses sell simple products or services. Musicians live — and ultimately sell — a lifestyle. There’s an entire persona at play,” says Hrycyshyn. These interactions venture into the realm of customer service when fans ask questions about upcoming album releases, tour dates and meet-and-greets. Thanks to chatbots, fans can receive immediate answers to their questions without expending the time and effort to search the web.
Customized chatbots earn people’s trust
Millennials have a reputation for demanding experiences that are meticulously tailored to their exact wants and needs, but the truth is, most consumers today expect this level of personalized service.
Chatbots have the ability to aggregate preferences gleaned from past customer service encounters and apply them to current and ongoing customer interactions. These types of hyper-personalized perks may include product recommendations, product pairings or alerts for store openings in a customer’s neighborhood.
But mining troves of data is not always a pre-requisite for delighting customers. A customized experience can also be achieved by asking a few simple questions. British Airways has an interactive, emoji-based chatbot that quizzes users about their ideal holiday, asking them to respond with emojis. Using the results, the bot provides users with personalized recommendations that best suit their mood and personality.
Chatbots can even customize in-person experiences.“Some of the best ways I’ve seen chatbots implemented is promoting and enhancing live shows,” says Hrycyshyn. “For example, fans can interact with a chatbot to help determine an artist’s setlist — literally customizing the concert to their preferences.”
Chatbots are a strong addition to any customer service strategy, but it’s important to note that they are only one part of being able to deliver a successful customer experience. Chatbots and other innovative technologies should be used in unison with highly-skilled agents – supporting, not replacing them in the contact center. A high-tech, high-touch approach leads to personalized, efficient and consistent interactions that will increase customer satisfaction scores, brand value and customer loyalty.