“Chatbots are the future of customer service.”
At least, that’s what everyone’s been saying for almost a decade now. Chatbots have been a booming trend in the customer support space since they’ve become accessible to companies. Today, with the advent of ChatGPT, that feels more and more cemented in reality.
Generative AI products have taken off in 2023. Everyone is looking for technologies to increase efficiency, level up their processes, and create a better customer experience. For many customer service leaders, this includes investing in a chatbot solution.
Using chatbots effectively involves much more than creating basic content and making it available to customers.
It means embedding them in your customer service strategy.
What most chatbots lack
Typical chatbots miss the mark in some ways:
- They rarely offer insights about what customers actually want. This is often filled by anecdotal, gut-feeling input from your support agents—which can be a good starting point, but isn’t enough to move the needle.
- They don’t have an intuition for service or product gaps. Having an automated analysis that really understands your customers is the easiest and fastest way to improve your customer experience.
- They don’t have visibility into the broader customer experience. Integrating your chatbot with the full breadth of tools your customers use to provide feedback is the only way to get a holistic view of their experience.
- They typically don’t propose action for agents. Simply offering a decent handoff experience from a bot to an agent is challenging enough for many chatbots, but ideally a chatbot would go even further to provide recommended next steps to agents.
Pros and cons of chatbots in customer service
Chatbots can transform your customer service department in many ways.
- They’re efficient and scalable. Chatbots handle a huge volume of common customer queries without the typical increase in staffing costs. They can scale up and accommodate fluctuations in your customer requests at a fraction of the cost.
- They provide instant responses, 24/7. Expanding your coverage to provide round-the-clock support and reply to those instantly requires a much higher customer support cost and management overhead. A chatbot platform makes that level of service possible without the overhead.
- They reduce the workload for human agents. Chatbots are great at handling simple questions and repetitive tasks, so your customer service reps can focus on more complex or emotionally demanding interactions. Today's AI-powered chatbots are much more conversational and handle a wide range of common issues.
- They provide a consistent quality of support. The good news is that if you have a great chatbot, it will be consistently great. Chatbots for customer service can dramatically reduce the risk of error by taking on basic questions without additional human intervention.
- They’re versatile. You can create chatbots that engage your customers with personalized interactions in a way that’s almost impossible to do at scale. That means you can use them to increase customer engagement, trigger proactive follow-ups, and ultimately improve your customer experience.
Chatbots bring tons of benefits, but—as with all tools—they still fall short in some ways. Some of the potential drawbacks of customer service chatbots include:
- They have limited emotional intelligence. The best customer support experience involves a deep amount of empathy. AI chatbots can't really respond well to human emotions or nuances. Sarcasm and other complex customer issues are likely to be misinterpreted.
- They often provide a set of predefined responses. Chatbots often default to a generic response that tarnishes the customer service experience if a question falls outside of the scope of predefined responses. AI customer service bots are prone to "hallucination" when it provides a quick answer at the expense of accuracy.
- They often misunderstand customer questions. Natural Language Processing isn't comparable to a person. Chatbot platforms can misinterpret user input, leading to incorrect responses or actions. This is one of the most frustrating experiences for a customer and can damage your brand's reputation.
- They falter when handling complex or unique issues. AI chatbots aren’t great at solving complex issues that require critical thinking, creativity, or extensive domain knowledge. Customer service representatives can approach the solution with their gut instincts instead of a knowledge base.
Best practices for a customer service chatbot that works
Many companies have struggled to overcome these shortcomings.
But the solution is quite simple.
Research on customer preferences shows that customers are often looking for specific things:
- 30% care about individualized and personalized service.
- 28% care about the time required to solve an issue.
- 20% are aiming to solve their problem through self-service options.
In practice, that means your customer service software cannot compromise in these areas.
These are the five key steps to ensure your chatbot is a successful part of your customer service strategy:
- Ensure AI meets customer expectations. Consider how your chatbot influences your customer journey and capitalize on that. AI can improve your customer relationships by enabling personalization, using sentiment analysis, or predictive analytics. Each of these can improve the journey.
- Calibrate and train on customer input. Implement a feedback mechanism that allows customers to provide input on the chatbot interactions or fill in this gap through manual analysis in your team. The combination of Natural Language Processing and machine learning is significantly more effective when paired with human support agents.
- Offer human escalations. A smooth and quick transition is the best way to reduce customer resistance to interacting with a bot. Your customers should never feel like you don’t want to hear from them. Offering an easy method to escalate to a live customer service agent improves the user experience.
- Surface historical context for human agents. AI chatbots should maintain a record of previous messages, interactions, or actions and provide this context during handoff. This is key to resolving complicated issues.
- Take advantage of integrations. A well-integrated chatbot can automate so much more of your processes and trigger actions that reduce your customer service agents’ workload using your API or CRM.
4 ways to advance your customer support strategy with a chatbot
"In reality, most companies fail to get the basics right."
Your human interactions, chatbot, and website all have one thing in common: they’re each a key part of the customer journey.
Every customer’s journey may look slightly different, but when interacting with your business, they use one or more of these three items.
They’re all factors in customer loyalty, and you should put the same effort into each.
Your chatbot should be one part of a broader customer service strategy. That means ensuring that it contributes to the higher-level goals of your business—in the right way.
Use chatbots to decrease common customer queries
One of the most common ways to measure a chatbot’s success is to track ticket deflection—how many tickets your chatbot prevents from being created.
That fails to consider two key things:
- Not all contacts are created equal. Some customer interactions might provide significant value for your team and your customers. These conversations benefit from being handled by a person—deflecting them is the wrong goal.
- Not all ticket deflection is good. 49% of customers abandon self-service because information is lacking or doesn’t solve their problem. The question is: how many of these follow that up by contacting your customer service team?
Probably not that many.
Customer support chatbots heavily focused on deflection can result in missing out on key interactions or increase the frustration your customers experience. The goal should be to resolve customer inquiries, not deflect them.
Where you can resolve inquiries via self-service, do it. But where it makes more sense to have a human assist, make it easy for customers to get human help.
Focusing on low-value interactions ensures that you and your customers benefit optimally from the chatbot.
Encourage cross-sells and upsells
The great thing about using virtual agents for cross-selling or upselling is that the starting point can be providing more value to your customers. The ultimate goal doesn’t have to be revenue—although that’s a great goal.
If you tailor your customer service chatbot towards providing meaningful value, your customers will likely be engaged, satisfied, and purchase more. Here are some ways you could do that:
- Provide product recommendations. Train your chatbot to analyze customer preferences, purchase history, and browsing behavior, then make recommendations based on their usage.
- Create personalized offers. Create promotions for specific customers and present them while interacting with your product. Analyzing the sentiment of conversations with customers is vital to add value here.
- Promote bundled products. Chatbot technology can suggest bundled packages with complementary products or services at a discounted rate.
- Deliver educational content. If users seem to be engaging less with particular, high-value areas of your product, you can provide helpful knowledge base articles or videos that show them how to use it fully.
Reduce resolution time
Being more responsive and effective at resolving issues correlates with improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.
However, reducing resolution time often seems simpler in theory than in practice. That’s because the root of high resolution times can vary:
- Maybe the real issue is that your first response times are too long because you often work with a backlog. A customer service chatbot can help by solving more of these issues before they become tickets.
- If you have long back-and-forth discussions with your customers, conversational AI can effectively collect information. This can drastically reduce the need for multiple replies from your customer service team.
- Another cause could be your customers taking longer than expected to respond to follow-ups. Here’s another opportunity for a chatbot to get more information at the point of contact to make it easier to avoid follow-ups.
- Your general response times might be great, but you want to improve how you reply to urgent customer issues. Chatbots for customer service improve this by categorizing and routing your tickets better.
- Expectations on social media are much higher than on other channels. You can use an AI customer service chatbot to analyze and categorize social media requests and identify your most frequently asked questions. This would ensure you have the fastest possible response times there.
James Villas reduced their first reply time for urgent cases by 46% and their total resolution time by 51% by focusing on automated topic recognition and triage. That’s how much impact a cleverly implemented chatbot solution can have on your support.
Close contact method gaps
In an ideal world, a chatbot for customer support integrates so well with your systems that it closes any potential gaps in the experience you’re providing.
What that looks like in practice is different from company to company, but the goal is always to create a more seamless experience that improves customer satisfaction.
You could use a chatbot service to:
- Expand support coverage. Say a small but valuable proportion of your customers is based in Australia when most customer inquiries come from customers in the United States. Chatbot software that's always available improves the experience for all customers worldwide.
- Route tickets to the right agents. Maybe you’re responsible for a support organization of 50+ agents and have multiple specializations across them, so tickets are often manually reassigned from person to person. A customer service chatbot can close this gap by accurately categorizing your tickets across the entire customer base.
- Provide a smoother handoff. Do your support agents often start a ticket by asking for more information? Lengthy contact forms with required fields might not lead to the best user experience. A chatbot solution can help you increase customer satisfaction by intelligently asking for the information you need right at the point of contact.
- Close the product feedback loop. Chatbots have an easier time tagging common queries with a higher level of granularity. They can do a great job analyzing sentiment and summarizing feedback so you can send it to your product management team. For instance, Hopin bridged the communication gap between Product and Support teams by providing better data.
Chatbots should help you create an effortless support experience by reducing friction, not increasing it.
Deliver on your customer service strategy in 2023
The future of customer support is very bright. There are massive opportunities to enable your customer service team to contribute to business growth and minimize operational costs.
Chatbots are a perfect example of that opportunity. They could answer only your simple and most common questions, or you can use them to supercharge your customer journey.
At SentiSum, we provide powerful, real-time insights to help you identify the true drivers of customer sentiment. If you’re ready to enable every team in your company to understand how your customers feel and why, book a free demo with us today.
We believe that 1+1 equals three. Combining rich human conversations happening on your chatbot platform with big data analysis, you can unlock net-positive productivity gains in the customer experience.
Curious about what's really happening in your support interactions? SentiSum gives you clarity and certainty.