Omni-Channel Customer Engagement Article

Chatbots Offer New Channel for Self-Service

May 31, 2016

When it comes to the future of customer support, most people assume that it will contain a mix of technology and human support. Think of Amazon’s Mayday button for the Kindle Fire that connects customers looking for answers to a live agent via video conferencing technology. It’s a WebRTC (“Real Time Communications) interface combined with a human agent working for a company (in this case, Amazon).

While there may certainly be a future market for this kind of high-tech, on-the-spot human intervention, other visionaries aren’t so sure about the human part of the equation. Humans aren’t very futuristic, and human failings are likely to be the same in 50 years as they are today: they can be apathetic, rude, late, in a bad mood or simply not have the answer to a question. As customers, we don’t much like having to deal with humans.

“I don’t know anyone who likes calling businesses,” said Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (News - Alert) recently at the F8 summit. “It’s not fast or convenient, and it definitely doesn’t feel like the future.”

Facebook is backing the idea that customer support won’t really need a human touch in the future. This why the company is so heavily promoting its new chatbots, or automated, text-based artificial intelligence support “agents.” When they’re properly built, chatbots could potentially do a majority of customer support at the front end, and rely on humans only for the backend work: sending a shipment, bringing room service to a hotel room or summoning tech support.

In a recent blog post, Aspect’s Tobias Goebel wrote that speed and convenience, coupled with omnichannel customer engagement, are what chatbots like Facebook (News - Alert) Messenger for customer support are all about.

“When Facebook launched the ‘bots’ platform, this is what they had in mind: give customers a better way to reach businesses,” he wrote. “Turning away from the old model of calling the ‘1-800 number,’ and lifting customer service into the 21st century,” wrote Goebel. “Facebook even introduced a new URL scheme to quickly reach businesses from your mobile or desktop browser: That’s what they consider the ‘new’ 1-800 number.”

Facebook is earning some criticism from people who believe that taking humans out of the customer support equation – even for basic requests – is a cost-saving move that benefits companies only. While it IS a cost-saving move, it’s also true that customers prefer to solve their own problems without having to speak with a human agent. Certainly, bots won’t replace the need for a human agent for complex problems, but they’re a great way to give customers what they want. It’s also a great way to determine if a support issue is going to need escalation to a live human being.

“The business then has the choice to deploy a bot to take the first message and maybe lead some dialogs to completion,” wrote Goebel. “The contact center industry calls this containment, or deflection from the contact center, i.e. the ability to serve a customer without the need of a human agent, also known as self-service.”

Self-service is often preferred by customers, who don’t want to take the time out to make small talk, wait on hold, suffer transfers to other departments or explain their problems over and over again to human agents. Rather than begin a trial-and-error program to build their own, more companies are likely to turn to Facebook’s bots in the future when they’re looking for a chatbot foundation that’s been proven to work. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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