The idea of deploying chatbots for customer service is top of mind for big brands right now, but a number of open questions remain – largely around figuring out the best strategy for implementing bots without jeopardizing customer experience. Contrary to the perception that everyone’s doing it, Gartner reports that only three percent of organizations have deployed chatbots or virtual support agents. However, Gartner also finds that 52% of brands intend to implement bots in the near-term.
What’s the best way to approach deploying bots for customer service? As the CEO of a company that pioneered the notion of using online channels for customer service, I have regular conversations with customers around this question and get a first-hand look at how they are approaching bots. And while bots have a lot of potential, jumping in feet first without first having a strategy in place could completely backfire on you.
Bots are coming, but they’re still in their infancy
The promise is that chatbots will take the place of humans in responding to customer service interactions on chat and messaging channels. This will drive efficiencies and supposedly improve the customer’s experience with faster service (if a bot’s responding, you don’t have to wait for a human and ideally, you’ll get more accurate AI-generated answers). It’s true that today’s chatbots are more advanced in natural-language processing and can better recognize user intent than ever before. But most still rely heavily on scripted responses and are limited in what they can and cannot perceive during a live customer service interaction. A bot is only as good as the data it’s fed.
Organizations also find that implementing chatbots requires more resources than they anticipate since bots require humans to develop, nurture and oversee them to learn how to perform effectively.
Premature deployments have led to a few major, public fails. A noted chatbot was taught to be racist within 24 hours after “learning” from racist comments it heard on Twitter. Facebook reported that 70% of their chat bots fail. And brands like fashion retailer Everlane have deployed bots only to quickly backpedal after the technology did not deliver as expected.
Clearly, we are in the early days and there’s going to be a certain amount of trial and error.
But one of the main considerations for brands should be whether your customers have the patience to move through this journey with you, while bots grow up and – hopefully – deliver on their promise.
Customer service equates to customer experience
A Nielsen study finds 89% of Americans would leave a brand after just one bad experience. For most brands, customer service can make or break them. Even with all the promises of efficiency, leaving customer loyalty in the hands of a robot is a scary prospect. As brands compete on customer experience these days, it’s imperative that nothing impedes delivering exceptional customer service. Customer experience must be the driving factor in whether and how you implement bots.
The risks associated with bots right now may very well outweigh the potential gains. But that doesn’t mean you can afford to not at least begin thinking about how you would deploy them. Now is the time to develop your bot strategy and align it closely to your customer experience journey.
The path forward
Brands must first determine whether bots fill a true need and if so, whether customers will want them. Developing new support methods does not guarantee your customers will use them. People stick with what is convenient and familiar. Bots must improve the customer experience in some way (e.g. faster time to resolution, more accuracy, a more intuitive experience, better quality solutions, more support availability) for customers to want to interact with them. Recognize, too, that even if bots prove competent, some customers are still going to want to interact with a person – it’s just human nature.
Smart brands will bring their customers with them on the bot journey. Rather than try to subtly insert bots into the customer service experience, disclose to your customers how you use bots, why, and be clear about when a customer is interacting with a bot. Include customers in the trial-and-error stages as you look to innovate, when they will be more lenient should snags occur during bot interactions. Solicit their feedback and input, and give them regular and easy options to connect to humans as an alternate path to resolution.
Remember, too, that bots are only as smart as the data you feed them, so make sure to bring all the right customer data that resides across your organization to bear. Pull from your CRM and ERP systems, as well as your online communities and your social media management platforms.
Lastly, make sure your technology partners support you in this journey. Ensure the vendors you work with have the right APIs and customization needed for you to explore, modify and deploy chatbots and virtual agents. They should be able to support you in this without sacrificing day-to-day operations, scalability and high-quality customer experiences.
It’s an interesting time in the history of customer service. Bots promise to deliver huge efficiencies but if implemented the wrong way you put your reputation and your business at risk. Explore, test, enforce transparency, listen to customer feedback along the way, and understand that the perfect implementation won’t happen overnight. But most importantly, invite your customers to join you in the journey.
This original article was published on the Huffington Post.
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Today I am very happy to announce our acquisition of the Jive-x business has closed. Now the real work begins! Lithium is dedicated to making this expansion to our business a success for all customers, both new and existing. Our focus is to develop a new next-gen community platform with all the best features of Jive-x and Lithium brought together, built on the Lithium infrastructure.
At Lithium, we are firm believers that community is the linchpin of any brand’s digital customer experience strategy, and we will make sure that beyond just providing the technology platform, we will continue to enable all of our customers to benefit from Lithium’s deep expertise – whether that be in the form of best practices gleaned from our Lithium thought leaders, trainings and certifications from our product experts, and relevant content to inform your digital strategy going forward.
Know that I am personally committed to being not just your preferred technology provider, but a trusted partner in your journey towards building amazing digital customer experiences.
Let me assure all existing Lithium customers that you will feel no immediate impact as a result of this acquisition. Longer-term, you will be able to take advantage of certain features from the Jive-x platform as we add them into Lithium Communities. And we will be bolstering our service and support organization to manage the Jive-x customers and ensure continuity of support to all our current customers.
Check out the official announcement here: https://www.lithium.com/company/news-room/press-releases/2017/lithium-technologies-completes-acquisition-of-external-online-community-business-from-jive
If you have any questions about the Jive-x acquisition, reach out to your account executive or leave a comment here for me.
We look forward to building the next generation of community products, together!
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A recent Harris Poll finds 43 percent of US consumers would willingly select an inferior product, as long as it was from a brand they enjoy interacting with. But that same poll finds 65 percent of consumers would no longer use your brand if they receive bad service, even if they love the product. This plays out time and time again when I talk to customers, regardless of industry. You can have the best products and services but it won’t matter. Fail on customer experience, you fail as a business.
Customers and shareholders may be willing to forgive you but even if they are, the repercussions of a damaged reputation linger indefinitely in the digital age. Think of it as digital residue that clings to and follows your brand, tough to ever completely shake off. As leaders, how can we ensure we have the right strategies in place to help prevent and survive customer experience catastrophes?
Begin with leadership. If social has done nothing else, it’s stripped away the divide that once separated brands and people. Brands ARE people these days, at least in the minds of consumers, and as such they are held to the same standards as a work colleague or a friend – they must show personality, and behave appropriately. In light of this, leadership matters now more than ever. Choosing leaders who have empathy, a sense of responsibility, and personal courage makes it easier to instill the right values across the organization, and ensure customers are treated with respect.
Pay closer attention to the reality of your culture. It’s easy to assume we’re living out the culture we’ve defined on paper, but is that how people really experience it? As leaders, we need to get closer to the real pulse of our company culture, and make sure we are eliciting feedback from people across the organization to ensure we stay true to those values. Ask people at every level, “If you were to run this company, what would you change?” and humbly listen.
Make social a CEO problem. Leadership and culture feed into social media strategy – which is huge in shaping the way customers experience your brand. Social enables direct customer interaction, which presents both opportunities and threats. We have one chance to get it right on social after a customer experience catastrophe, and whatever our response is it has to be sincere. Customers respect unconditional apologies, followed by a move towards meaningful change. Arrogance, pride and defensiveness will only harm you further.
Ensure a seamless customer experience across channels. The norms of digital culture dictate our customers’ expectations for how they access and experience our brands. We’re gaining headway through technology to meet these expectations. Bridging the gap between the various parts of your business that interface directly with customers – social customer service teams, marketing organizations, sales teams – is the way to ensure customers get a consistent experience of your brand. It also ensures that if a customer communicates a concern to one particular department, the rest of the organization is made aware.
Use digital channels to get a handle on what your customers want. Pepsi recently removed the entire ill-conceived “Live for Now Moments” campaign with Kendall Jenner in less than 24 hours due to consumer backlash. That was the right response, but would they have been able to avoid it entirely by listening more closely to their customers in advance of the campaign? Maybe by tapping their social channels to get closer to their customers? Just like having the pulse on our company culture, we need to do a better job of having our finger on the pulse of customer desires and experience.
Let’s be clear. We are human, so we’re going to make mistakes. But with the right values, choices, strategies, training and responses in place, we can ensure mistakes don’t turn into catastrophes and create a customer-first culture. At the end of the day, we must remember people love us for how we make them feel. That’s customer experience in a nutshell.
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on June 6, 2017.
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Customer loyalty. What does it mean to you? As a business owner or executive, no doubt you use it to measure success. When customers are loyal, they are more likely to spend with you on a continual basis. Which explains why a ton of effort goes into driving customer loyalty — in fact, you could say everything a business does is focused on securing that. But I venture that customer loyalty no longer exists. And here’s why.
Today’s customers are loyal to the quality of experience they have with brands. Great customer experience? They stick with you…until you fail and then, with a tap on the screen, they move on to the next business that promises to do better. They are not loyal to your brand – in fact, in a recent Harris Poll 71 percent of adults said that after just one bad experience, they would likely never use that brand again.
It’s not brand loyalty that’s up for grabs, it’s experience loyalty.
As a digital CEO, I believe digital must be a brand’s way of existing and staying relevant in today’s world — how you connect with, interact with, care for, compete for and embrace customers at every touchpoint. Digital is the new normal. It’s where we live and experience large parts of our lives today. And on digital, our customers expect personalized, caring, easy interactions with brands that leave them feeling highly valued — and always on the platforms of their choice. This is the new status quo.
When those expectations are not met, customers move on. The Harris Poll also revealed that nearly 9 out of 10 adults (87 percent) agree they would look elsewhere if a brand made them unhappy in any way. Second chances are few and far between, which means brands must get this right the first time.
So, how can you deliver a better overall customer experience while creating happy customers at every touch point?
1. Focus on customer experience just as much as (if not more than) your product.Product matters – but when it comes to happiness, experience matters more.
2. Pay attention to all digital touchpoints along the customer journey. Are your customers getting the same experience on your website, Facebook page, and eCommerce site? They absolutely must. Always be consistent.
3. Quit talking and focus on delivering a better experience. Big promises of being a “customer-centric brand” are empty if not followed up with action. Actions and experiences tell the real story. So, talk less and deliver more experiences that make the customer happy.
4. Be fun, be loveable, and speak to your customers as they would want to be spoken to. It’s easy for customers to walk away from brands that speak in corporate jargon. It’s much harder for them to walk away from a brand they could equate to being your less-than-perfect best friend.
5. Empower your biggest advocates to share their happiness. If it takes more than one click to share a great experience, that’s one click too many. Happy customers want to share their happy experiences, so make it as easy as possible for them to do so.
6. Pay attention to digital behavior. You use Facebook, but your target customers use Snapchat. Bridge that disconnect by building relevant digital customer experiences into everything you do as well as in every place your customers expect you to be.
7. Help your customers learn. Happy customers are naturally curious, so feed that curiosity. Take your customers on a journey from happy to informed.
8. Don’t mess up in the first place. Easier said than done, right? It only takes one snag to change perceptions. Your customers believe you are in the driver’s seat of your brand’s end-to-end experience. So, take control of that experience – and make it a positive journey from start to finish.
When you shift your focus to creating awesome experiences for all of your customers, you’ll find the right strategies that connect you to them in ways that matter. Make the experience with your brand so exceptional that they’ll never want to leave.
This article originally posted on Huffington Post on May 23rd, 2017.
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