A Guest Post by Michael Deane
Whether you have noticed the fact or not, a lot of businesses have started implementing chatbots on their websites. And while they have certainly not become a trend yet, they are being used more and more, and we are all starting to wonder what benefits they bring to the table.
As with every new piece of software, there will be those who hail it as the next silver bullet to solve most of your onsite communication issues. On the other hand, there will certainly be those who see it as something out of a science fiction novel.
Even though customer service is such a vital part of every business, it has not gone through too many changes over the decades. It has always remained focused on one thing – making sure the customer is happy and satisfied, and ready to make another purchase down the line.
And while this fact has not changed, the way we can approach the discipline today has. The participants in the exchange remain unchanged: you have a client and you have a customer service rep on the other side. However, this rep can today be a piece of code called a chatbot, as opposed to the living and breathing human we are all used to.
Chatbots can certainly help you take your customer service department to the next level: if you implement them right. Here is what you need to know about the practice, and how to put it to good use:
Customer Service on a Global Scale
The first thing that has prompted businesses to implement chatbots in customer service is the fact that they can provide 24/7 support, across all times zones, all continents, all demographics. This means you no longer need to employ service reps working odd shifts to accommodate all of your global customers. A chatbot can even help a company expand to a new market if they were hesitant to do so before precisely because of the time zone constraint, even eliminating the need for new hires.
The one thing that can hinder the successful implementation of chatbots are low bandwidth and slow servers, but as hosting plans keep getting more affordable, this is no longer a challenge. Finding the right hosting plan will, in fact, cost much less than hiring a new team for your customer service department.
With the traditional customer service mode of operation, you need to wait for a customer to reach out to you before you can offer assistance. This means a problem has already arisen, and the customer is probably annoyed or irritated already, which requires tact and patience on the part of your rep.
However, a sophisticated chatbot can recognize a problem will arise before it actually does. With access to a sufficient amount of customer data, it can detect issues before the customer does, and you can act on it preemptively.
This means that, potentially, the entire process of customer support will one day be automated. Relevant data will only ever become more available, and the AI we are yet to develop will only make it easier to detect future roadblocks, enabling us to solve them before they ever reach the customer
You can also utilize your chatbot for lead generation. It can strike up a conversation with a visitor even if they have not engaged first, and offer a valuable piece of information, even make a joke, which will engage the visitor. They can then be prompted to leave their email address to receive future updates and news, turning them into a potential customer down the line.
Lowered Operating Costs
We have to admit that a team of customer service reps can take up a significant chunk of any company budget. Apart from the wages you need to pay, you also need to provide them with workspace and training, and since it is such a high pressure and high stress position, people often decide to leave, meaning you need to start the hiring process yet again.
A chatbot costs significantly less, and you only need to make an initial investment. In fact, you can even set it up on your own if you feel confident enough, as there are a bunch of tutorials online you can browse. And once it’s up and running, you will have no added expenses, it will never be out of the office, and you only have to invest in maintenance as it becomes more and more intelligent.
This is precisely why they can be used even by small companies and startups, who often don’t have the budget to hire a new team member to handle customer service, which can cripple growth and expansion.
With the competition getting more and more fierce for any business operating online, it can be increasingly difficult to attract and retain customers. In such an environment, personalization is becoming more and more important, and a way to provide an experience unique to your brand.
And while this approach has been utilized by marketing teams previously, there is no reason why customer service can’t adopt it too. A chatbot can offer each customer a slightly different experience, based on the data you already have about said customer.
Chat logs and previous conversations, purchasing history and other information can be fed to the bot, which can then create a conversation pattern unique to that particular customer, in order to better match their preferences. This will certainly lead to the faster and more efficient solving of potential issues a customer is coming to you with.
The way your customer service department is run can do a lot for your company in terms of branding and recognisability. Depending on how a customer service conversation has gone, you will be perceived in a more negative or positive light. If you choose to use a chatbot, you can give it a name, a back story, and turn it into a branding vehicle. It can be listed on the website as a part of your team and can be humanized to an extent that will make your customers’ conversations with it more of an experience.
Take the examples of Cortana, Alexa or Siri. You all know them by name and can even recognize their voice. By creating a similar chatbot, you will also be adopting some of the flair these famous bots have introduced to the industry. A particularly smart bot can even book appointments, fill out forms or send out reminders to your customers. It just depends on what you teach it.
Providing Self-Service Options
Not all customers will be comfortable with contacting customer service in the first place. Millennials and the Z Generation are particularly known for looking for a self-service option, if it is available. Since they are truly the generation that has grown up in a digital world, this fact should come as no surprise to any of us.
Instead of forcing these customers to talk to someone live, you can provide a chatbot to guide them, which will let them figure out a way to solve the issue, all the while chatting to a rep who is a bit more high tech than the average one. If you are looking to appeal to this particular demographic, a bot can be a very good choice, and prove you are just as advanced in the digital world as they are.
While automated customer service is certainly not what we are striving for quite yet, the automation of certain processes is at hand and should be explored. There is no need to be freaked out by a piece of code that can hold up a conversation. After all, it is the product of the human mind, and can as such be used to ease the tasks us sapiens are faced with on the daily.
Michael Deane is one of the editors of Qeedle, a small business magazine. When not blogging (or working), he can usually be spotted on the track, doing his laps, or with his nose deep in the latest John Grisham.
Also published on Medium.