How Bots Can Make Communications More Human

Credit: Abidal | Dreamstime

Think about the majority of customer service interactions you’ve experienced. They’re terrible, right?

First, you run into an issue that requires a call to customer service. You look up and dial a phone number, wait on hold, respond to various IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system questions and are connected to a human representative... only to repeat everything you just told the IVR (unless you’ve already hung up in frustration).

For critical service providers such as airlines or electricity companies, this process is far too lengthy and unnecessarily complicated. At best, an interaction like this will lead to a frustrated customer. At worst, your company risks major reputational damage.

Businesses have embraced massive automation thanks to technology, but they’ve sacrificed the human element of customer service in favour of scale and “efficiency”. CRM platforms try to fill in the gaps for customer service representatives by enabling them to see conversation history with a customer, but when was the last time a customer service rep’s knowledge of your billing history helped you solve your problem?

The problem is that humans can’t communicate in normal human-esque ways at scale. It’s not efficient or sustainable for businesses to require customer support staff to know the entire history and maintain a constant back-and-forth conversation with each individual customer. But where humans fail, bots –or similar artificial intelligence– can excel.

In the near future, every bot customer representative will be able to analyse past engagements, track user behaviour to troubleshoot in real-time and engage customers 24/7, when and where it’s convenient for the customer.

Credit: Nils Ackermann | Dreamstime

Some of the most influential messaging players, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Slack and Google, are already embedding chatbots on their platforms to assist users with basic tasks. The idea that bots can make communications feel more human might sound counterintuitive, but here are four simple ways that bots can bring humanity back to business communications:

Context: Bots know what customers need

Read more: How artificial intelligence is becoming a key weapon in the cyber security war

With recent advancements in artificial intelligence, bots are now able to get down to the root of a problem immediately. Rather than answering a series of redundant yes-or-no questions, customers can inform the bot of the problem in their own words. Within seconds, the bot will sift through its diverse pool of company data and deliver a solution. If it’s a new issue that requires deeper intelligence, the bot will direct the caller to an expert.

Many companies are already developing intelligent software that helps get right down to the customer need. Sonar, a messaging solution for businesses, powers lead qualification for Lawtrades, an on-demand legal service where users text or message requests for assistance on contracts, trademarks and other legal issues. Sonar’s platform allows Lawtrades to quickly address customer needs through a combination of pre-determined and automated responses.

Convenience: Bots are available when humans aren’t

Offering around-the-clock customer service presents a challenge for every business: how can we be available to our customers whenever they need us without putting too much strain on our customer service reps? Bots don’t subscribe to the standard nine-to-five business day. They don’t take time off either. Additionally, bots facilitate multiple conversations simultaneously, so your customers will never wait on hold again. Hallelujah.

Customer service rockstar Zendesk recently unveiled “Automatic Answers,” an email service that helps Zendesk’s customers address basic support issues 24/7 without requiring customer care teams to work around the clock.

Through machine learning and artificial intelligence, Automatic Answers reads and responds to email questions and gets smarter every time. While it’s currently only available in an email, Zendesk plans to roll it out to multiple communication channels to help businesses scale the human aspect of customer service through software.

Memory: Bots remember

A customer should never have to repeat themselves. Since bots store and process more data than humans, they have instant access to interaction history and personal details, resulting in more personalised interactions and a more valuable customer experience. At its core, customer service is relationship management—and customers appreciate the recognition.

As with the Zendesk example above, bots have a unique ability to mimic the asymmetry of human conversation. Because they are available 24/7 and maintain a water-tight memory, customers can jump in and out of customer support conversations when it’s convenient for them. It’s customer service, no strings attached.

Credit: Rawpixelimages | Dreamstime

(Lack of) Emotion: Beyond the human scale

Though bot adoption has progressed at a meteoric rate, some are still sceptical of their ability to function in a human capacity. But lack of human emotion can sometimes be a good thing. Unlike humans, bots never get irritated, tired or inappropriate, no matter how tense a customer conversation becomes. Exceptional customer service prevents customer hostility, but bots can “remain calm” no matter how the situation plays out.

Additionally, knowing you’re speaking to a bot allows customers to comfortably discuss personal issues like appearance or hygiene. Sephora recently launched a chatbot on messaging app Kik to help consumers find the best cosmetic products. Normally, shopping for makeup and other beauty products is fairly routine, but consumers looking for skincare or other cosmetic products could feel uncomfortable discussing acne, skin problems, damaged hair, scars or any of a series of personal appearance issues. A human-bot conversation provides a certain type of confidence and privacy while still delivering the information and recommendation that a customer needs.

The Bottom Line

Consumers want to engage with technology, brands and businesses in the same way they communicate with friends and family—bots make this possible. Friendly, familiar conversations will increase both efficiency and customer satisfaction, and eventually decrease customer service calls altogether. A combination of a bot and human customer service can create a familial experience, and the balance between these two methods will depend on the company and the product or service.

Bots are even changing how we consume information. After Facebook announced it’s Bots API for the Messenger App, news bots were some of the first to pop up; Purple, an SMS news delivery app, sends live updates on major political events and allows users to have conversations with each other. Numerous media companies like Quartz and Mic .com have published or announced news delivery apps- and surely more news sites will follow. The common thread here is the friendly, conversational way in which people can consume information- all made possible by a combination of bots and other intelligent software.

Businesses are just beginning to experiment with bots for customer service, but it’s clear that the technology has the potential to enhance businesses communications (and beyond) through context and convenience, making high-quality customer service the new industry standard.    

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