The future is automation and customer service (CS) is not exempt from this change. With chatbots, virtual reality and artificial intelligence paving the way for a better future, how will this affect CS and the experience customers have all become accustomed to? When Facebook launched its own chatbot, many saw this as the beginning of the end for human CS and a loss of many jobs.
There are many advantages for both automated and human CS, which, for very different reasons, will hopefully keep your customers happy and continuing to buy from you. Emphasis must be put on great customer experience (CX). Consumers now wish to build relationships with those they interact with and are more desperate than ever to feel like they’re being appreciated.
It's unwise to just forget about automated CS and continue to provide service using only human operators. Although many businesses prefer the human touch, a lot of queries from consumers can be easily solved using automated responses. This would leave businesses more time to engage with customers with complicated issues. Head of consumer insight and futures at BT, Nicola Millard, predicts that, by 2020, “the primary function of telephone based customer service will be complex problem solving.” The kind of queries that should be managed using automated CS (in her eyes) should be store opening times, store availability, password resets and other admin activities. This means, alongside the multitude of channels that businesses should now be offering, automated CS needs to be added on top.
What is automated customer service looking to bring?
We’ve become used to the concept of texting our banks for information on our current accounts (such as checking your bank balance, making a payment etc.), so it was to be expected that we would be able to communicate with our favourite stores using the same method. Using bots available on a range of channels, you can find anything you'd like without stepping foot in the physical store or even talking to another human being and all through messaging apps like Facebook!
You can ask the bots on Facebook to find what you're looking for and they will browse their library for you. You don’t even have to go to the store's website. No more scrolling through pages of items in sizes that don’t even fit you and constantly flicking between apps and websites to ensure you get the best deal. It's not just shopping you can do using these chatbots; booking a taxi, making a dentist appointment and paying bills is all becoming possible through one place. No more waiting in a line to get served or find out there's no appointments left.
As we mentioned before, banks have also been using higher level automation, implementing AI to allow users to ask for help when logged in to online banking. RBS have their very own virtual assistant, Luvo, who can deal with issues from a lost bank card to changing a PIN number by accessing their database to pull up essential information. Not only can it manage data-retrieval tasks, it even learns from everything it does, meaning it will only get smarter.
The human touch
Of course, automated CS means that in some forms, CS will lose its human touch. But with so many operators being forced to spend all day answering questions on admin issues, some respite may be gladly accepted. Automated services could help remove the usual question and answer process most interactions begin with. This can be achieved by asking a bot to gather that data before the customer interacts with a human (if the automated service can’t answer their question). It's likely that that call and contact centre occupations will be automated in the next decade. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
It’s not just bots that automation is bringing into the CS industry. 78% of brands are trying to use VR within the next four years, using an advisor possibly powered by AI. This would remove the need for long call waiting times or waiting in a queue for web chat, as these VR systems would involve using automated videos/operators who can deal with multiple issues.
As VR is one of the trends of the moment, it could look like this is a passing fad. But per Daryn Mason, senior director of Oracle, “commitment of some of the world’s biggest companies to develop VR products for consumers suggests otherwise.”
Research suggests that that customer service is the most likely workplace to become automated, with call and contact centre occupations “fairly likely” to be automated in the next decade.
How can businesses prepare for this?
There can be a lot of concern regarding robots coming in and taking people’s jobs. But in fact, this development means that we need to think of fresh, new ways to apply the world’s talents, thus creating new job roles. Facebook took this in their stride when they introduced their smartphone assistant, M, which is powered by a team of an artificial intelligence (AI) and real people. It is a prime example of AI being used to gather data while humans take on more complex enquiries. The AI is trained and supervised by humans so it’s learning its skills from actual operators.
Each industry will have a different view on automated CS. But research suggests that customer service is the most likely workplace to become automated, with call and contact centre occupations “fairly likely” to be automated in the next decade.
Certain jobs require a more complex understanding to them and many years of training (such as doctors, therapists and psychologists), so it’s unlikely you’ll find these professions taken over by bots. Jobs that don’t require such a large amount of empathy, but do require interaction, such as telemarketers and bank clerks, may find themselves prone to automation.
Businesses need to be ready to introduce automation - whether that is within the next year or the next 10 - so they can integrate it with their current human team.
A quick guide to integrating automation alongside humans
As we’ve mentioned, we don’t expect a good level of CS to be provided by only using automation. It needs to be used collaboratively with pre-existing human operators so businesses can not only offer speedy service, but also a personalised customer experience. If you think about all the best CS stories that go viral, it would be hard to imagine a robot being the sole creator of those interactions. They’re smart, but not that smart.
It’s not as if we don’t already rely on technology to provide our CS. Automation has many of the advantages computers have given the CS industry: speed, location flexibility and multilingual support.
Bots should be used to free up human operators so they can deal with more pressing issues, such as phone calls or irate customers. One way of relieving some of a human operator’s time is to implement automated proactive live chat, which seeks out customers browsing online. This would contact them regarding any products they’ve previously purchased/looked at, or even just enquire if they need any help. As 83% of customers who switched brands say they would have remained with that business if their live CS was of a better standard, it’s more important than ever before to make sure this type of service has the human touch. This is when your human operators come into their prime, making personal connections and trying to avoid repeat contacts caused when the customer hasn’t had their question answered.
Our top ideas for integrating automation into your pre-existing customer service?
- Allow bots to answer frequently asked questions. For example, confirmation emails may not be reaching customers and rather than asking your operators to deal with this easy to fix style queries, add a filter that watches out for keywords like ‘confirmation email’. If the filter catches that word, send the customer a new confirmation email. Not only does this speed up the process for the customer, it also allows the operator to deal with more complex enquiries.
- Automating filtering can speed up responses. For example, if an operator has just finished a chat with a customer regarding a delivery, it would make sense to give them another chat after that which also has a delivery issue. You could also set up filtering to prioritise more urgent issues. Filtering removes the need for an operator to manually sort and hand out to queries to the right person.
- Automation can also be used to follow-up, no matter what time of day or night. If a customer reaches out, a fast response is key so by allowing some form of reply to be sent back so they’re not left waiting for your operators to log on. This could be asking for more information or offering a resolution if the issue is known to the business. This holding message, whether it be via email, social media or webchat means that when a more convenient time for your operators to respond appears, they can put together a more personal reply.
It’s unlikely that CS will ever exist entirely without humans working on some aspect of it, but this will be influenced by whatever changes and transformation the CS industry sees in the next few years. Operators will need to be able to manage both themselves and automated services to ensure customers receive the service desired by all businesses if they want to succeed. Understanding how to bring automation into your business is vital and not something to launch yourself head first at. Depending on the industry, your customers, and your business itself, automation will align with your current strategy in very different ways.