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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Apple's community is on Jive, right? If so, I am sharing the excitement. That community is pretty impressive in terms of infrastructure, integration, perks, content and really everything. I saw some great features. (I know it is probably heavily customized).
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Hey @RobT just wanted to point out that Lithium is also a category leader in this evaluation from Crozdesk of the top social media software: https://crozdesk.com/marketing/social-media-software#top-list Great job guys!
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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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A brief search of Vista Equity Partners so far has provided me with a good feeling about this announcement. For example a 4.1 out of 5 star rating on Glassdoor which can be quite telling at times. It also helps that they are rated as one of the best performing funds in the US. Time will tell how this will ultimately effect the company but I'm not seeing any red flags. Best of luck.
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