The UK Contact Centre Forum, in partnership with VoiceSage, recently hosted a seminar of senior UK contact professionals to shed light on the practicalities and potential of chatbots and what they signify for UK brands.
Attendees represented a number of sectors including legal, retail, health and manufacturing brands, as well as customer experience experts from a variety of vendors and consulting firms.
The discussion revealed that practitioners say artificial intelligence (AI) in the contact centre could be the most useful new tool they’ve seen for some time – but there are real concerns about the best way to involve AI and chatbots in customer service. Here is a summary of the main talking points that emerged from the seminar.
- Rising demand
More and more brands are starting to use chatbots, we heard – from airlines to news services to sports brands, with Manchester City’s Messenger-based example being singled out for some praise by a user.
According to Gartner, this is the start of a shift to wider use, with the analyst group predicting 85% of customer engagement incidents will involve them in some form or another by 2020.
- Mobile is the battleground
Delegates agreed that the focus is now on mobile for customer attention. “Customers want everything in one place – and that place is no longer the browser,” commented one Client Services Team Manager. “It’s WhatsApp.”
It’s not just mobile, but Messenger and other IM platforms where customers are present now. “There’s the ‘three clicks’ issue,” offered one Director of Customer Insight. “They’re saying, ‘If I can’t do it in WhatsApp, I won’t bother,’ as that would take three clicks away from where they are now. We’re starting to hear that more and more.”
Messages are a key trend for customers – a sentiment Facebook must agree with, as we heard there are at least 100,000 developers now working on Facebook Messenger applications.
- Room for both smart and dumb bots
The group also agreed that there are very different levels of chatbots, not all of which have to be ‘intelligent’. “You definitely want some smart-bots, but you can get a lot done with dumb-bots, too,” pointed out one Support Services Director. “A blended approach, where chatbots can do useful things without any need for particular ‘intelligence’ in them, is probably the ideal medium right now.” added another practitioner.
An interesting example of a useful dumb-bot could be a voice-driven car chatbot, for example. By scanning a QR code on an object, a customer should be able to interrogate say a vehicle for a warts-and-all history of its servicing and owners, for example. “There’s no need for any depth of responsiveness there, or maybe for many chatbot use cases,” pointed out a Webchat Director. “All you want is the information in the CPU, which the computer should be able to give you more honestly than the salesman – hopefully!”
- Did we contribute to the rise of the robots?
A fact of business life: while we may agonise about what to do with our human contact centre agents, it may well be that (for certain transactions at least) customers expect a ‘robotic’ experience from modern contact centres. “We’ve been driving down cost and training people to work from scripts for years,” said one Support Services Director. “In a way, they are expected to act like robots, so if software can do the job as well, then I don’t think many of us would mind, quite frankly.”
“I have had customers complaining that some staff aren’t as useful to them in giving them the information they want and they prefer interacting with IVR!” added a Client Services Team Manager.
But this also presents an opportunity for differentiation, argued others. “Use chatbots to automate as much as you can and maybe even get rid of some of the less specialist roles,” suggested a Senior Consultant. “Absorb a big proportion of the inbound calls with automation, but then keep highly trained staff for the complex calls where you can add real value.”
“You can imagine in a few years some brands will try and stand out by saying they don’t use chatbots – that ‘all our agents are humans’,” added one Director of Customer Insight.
- Context is all-important
“Our customers prefer ‘robots’ for things like FAQs and simple information demands,” confirmed a financial services senior executive. “For things like ‘Check my balance’ and simple queries like that, they don’t want to speak to a human: it is just felt to be much quicker and more straightforward to have that level of interaction automated now.”
Not everyone agrees. “Yes, we have a lot of ‘phone phobic’ consumers who get irritated if they get put through to a human – they see it as a time-waste,” noted one healthcare organisation’s General Manager. “But we also have people who hate virtual systems and only ever want to talk to a person.”
Another caveat is that some transactions really do always want to be with humans in key areas like financial interactions, for example. “Probably, no matter how sophisticated an AI will get, it still won’t be the only channel you’d want to offer,” said a financial services company Director. “If it’s too easy to open your account, some people will see that as devaluing the brand, and will resist.”
“I suspect chatbots will always have to be part of the experience, not the whole customer contact experience,” added an Investment Manager.
- The continuing relevance of omnichannel
The verdict from this experienced group of contact centre professionals is that chatbots have a place for the ‘Messenger Generation’ and for many brand followers.
But they also agreed that the best way to deploy them is in sync with your other comms channels that offer distinct brand benefits and are preferred by other demographics and as part of an omnichannel strategy.
About John Duffy
John is an Account Consultant at VoiceSage. With over 10 years experience in the messaging and communications industry, John worked for a variety of organisations from start-ups to large telcos across both the public and private sectors.
Driven by a real passion for how communications can improve, augment, and drive business processes, John sees his role as being all about helping customers achieve lower costs and efficiencies and better experiences for the customer.