Ten years ago the enterprise was just latching onto mobile, engaging companies like ours to port their website over to a mobile experience. By failing to seize the opportunity of mobile, and building mobile sites and apps in a vacuum, businesses left their customers with subpar experiences and created more blockers than entries to connect with their customers in new ways. Engaging with our clients to truly leverage the affordances of mobile, allowed us to truly maximize its value to the enterprise.
Fast forward to 2023. COVID was nightmare fuel for customer support teams. An already thankless job but exacerbated by increased call volumes leading to longer wait times, angry customers and exhausted operators. Drive-thru lines became longer and were now being bombarded with multi-channel ordering pickups. On top of all of these companies are now experiencing the cost of labor going up and the availability of consistent resources going down. So for the past year, I’ve engaged with companies trying to port their customer service volume over to bots and have felt history repeating itself.
Why chatbots fail.
First of all, there is no question that Conversational AI should be on your investment list this year, just behind cloud strategy if you are sitting on that. I could link to a million analyst articles that tell you this. What I want to talk about today is why chatbots in a vacuum don’t work.
Your automated assistant is only as smart as its source, and either there is no source or it has seen better days.
Lately, we’ve all been amazed at how knowledgeable ChatGTP seems to be. Like any great artificial intelligence, it is seeded with a human-created data set to train it. Ask yourself what knowledge your company has, where that knowledge is stored, and how accurate and consistent it is. Like many companies, when we start asking those questions we find some skeletons in the closet. We are often forced to create new data sources or even hardcoding into the bot due to a lack of dynamic data to pull from to get something up and running.
Your automated assistant is a pet project in one area of your organization vs part of a larger strategic investment in improving customer service.
Marriage counseling across departments is not a new job for consultants, but when it comes to automated technology we often find this is an affair living in one area of the organization. There has been a slow shift from innovation teams, to IT, and the business is finally starting to get a whiff. We know there are critical metrics that can be greatly impacted by meaningful automation and digitization.
- Increasing deflection: Leveraging automation to reduce labor costs for repetitive high-volume calls.
- Consistently up-selling: Leveraging algorithmic behaviors to take what we know about a customer to present them with more relevant options.
- Improving customer experience: They say bots don’t have a bad day. You can create a consistent source of truth that is delivered in a consistently friendly way.
You built an amazing bot experience, but lacked customer and/or employee acceptance.
We’ve seen and, yes, built some solid automated experiences. We’ve then had our hearts broken watching them die on the vine. The biggest killers are lack of stakeholder buy-in due to lack of a strong business case (see above) and second, a lack of focus on customer acceptance. Customer research is a critical component of releasing emerging technology.
Rarely does something new survive the first punch of a customer interaction without some very thoughtful discovery and evaluation research. Customers are just starting to come around to the fact that the quickest and most effective way to get support in some cases is a digital experience vs a warm body on the other line. If you don’t factor in that there is a negative connotation for some individuals in automating jobs and a whole history of subpar bot experiences, you are missing a key element of customer acceptance and adoption.
Companies also forget that their existing employees are users too. Often your employees are the next point of contact after any automated experience, or if you’ve done it right they are along for the ride and finding their job enhanced and not replaced by AI. Having a change management plan in place that your employees can be part of, that creates a better high value position for them can actually generate excitement and build a better employee experience.
You literally just built a customer-facing bot.
To make the most of the affordances of digital for customer support, the technical ecosystem being explored should go well beyond a customer-facing digital agent.
- Digital adoption platforms: Turning conversational AI inward for guided training and support is a great way to generate savings and improve competency amongst your employees.
- Field service: Empowering your frontline workforce with dynamic data and capabilities allows them to better personalize their interactions with customers.
- Interaction analysis: Also interesting, is turning AI in on itself to better understand the interactions that are happening with customers and how we can leverage data to better serve them. Sentiment detection, pattern recognition, and other forms of categorization can unlock clues in customer behavior that in turn, your customer support team can respond to.
- Messaging: Not to be confused with chat, messaging allows customers to have a completely asynchronous conversation with a brand. The nature of these conversations allows the service of multiple customers at once, reducing the need for increased headcount to manage volume. Leveraging existing messaging channels (Google, SMS, Facebook, etc.) allows customers to truly engage where they already are.
- Proactive outbound: Although this is not a new concept, with the increase of data and personalization there are interesting new ways to engage your customers in content/notifications they are interested in and in the channels they are most likely to engage with.
Our approach to successful digital customer experience
Much like the mobile age mentioned above, I’ve been around to skin my knees a bit now with bot building as the lead on most of our conversational UX projects. As always, we’ve applied our customer experience-driven development methods to designing and developing some really amazing digital agents with one of the best partners in natural language understanding (NLU) processing technology, Google.
More critically, as we work with our client's call center teams, we’ve helped them break down barriers with other teams with shared dependencies including IT, marketing, and product teams.
- Alignment and visioning: Working across stakeholders to understand the current state of the support, current objectives and key indicators. We work to establish a shared north star for their customer support transformation. We push our clients to adopt a north star that is truly transformative for the customer support organization. We help our clients ensure that they are choosing the highest ROI option.
- Data analysis and strategy: We identified existing data and any streams of new data that can be leveraged to inform the problem and solution space further. We can help those in early stages of the process calculate and develop a business case for understanding the potential impact of digitizing elements of their contact center.
- Service design: We help our clients reimagine the customer experience across channels to resolve current breakdowns, blockers, and less than satisfactory customer and employee experience. We determine key opportunities of further personalization and connection.
- Digital agent augmentation: Working with our partners we’ve assisted our clients to identify areas where automation and AI can contain support volume, focusing human agents on more appropriate high-touch interactions. This has helped alleviate mundane operator roles and improved consistent delivery of messaging where it matters most.
- Change management: Our teams also support our clients in establishing updating processes, achieving buy-in and facilitating education around the technology for clients looking to take on these solutions longer term without vendor reliance. We work closely with our clients to understand the value-add opportunity of up-skilling and freeing up your staff for more white-glove service needs.
We are looking forward to the coming year and breaking new ground with organizations ready to make critical investments in digital customer experience. We are meeting clients where they are in their journey and helping them fill functional or technical gaps to get the rest of the way. We understand the reluctance to get too far in bed with a vendor that you can’t escape, so we are also here to educate you on your new digital ecosystem and get out of your way as soon as you are ready. Let’s change the way customer experience works, for the better.