The Smart Future of Chatbots and Self-Service Customer Support

The Smart Future of Chatbots and Self-Service Customer Support

As customers have more ways to get in touch with their bank, local government, favourite brand or other business, the move to self-service support is a natural step for most high-volume companies. But how to prepare your customers for the step, and monitoring how they react are key issues in making it a success, and beyond that – what happens when customers have their own bots?

Customer-led automation is a fresh term coined in recent research by tech analyst firm Gartner. In their latest piece, they highlight that to handle the growing load of customers, engagements and data, automation is the key, but letting the customer choose how to engage is vital to maintaining a positive relationship.

There will always be people who want to talk on the phone or chat to a real agent on messenger, and there are those who simply want a problem solved in the fastest possible manner, while younger generations are already used to automated interaction as part of their daily lives. Letting people choose how they get their help and support will keep the customer happy and let the business know how their touchpoints are changing.

However, Gartner’s Anthony Mullen warns “What’s interesting is that when we begin to look at the dynamics of self-service and continued automation by organizations over a longer time frame, cracks begin to appear, the burden of managing and supporting self-services is being taken from today’s support staff and being pushed into customers’ hands. This level of delegation, from ‘DIY’ to customer-led AI, will be a major force shaping customer self-service.”

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As chatbots, virtual assistants, digital agents and other avenues open up, customers and businesses need to align the solutions to specific routes the customer might take. In the near future, they might want to handle an issue themselves, or work with the company to resolve it. As personal bots become the norm in the 2020s, the company could get in touch with a customer’s bot to solve an issue, or our bots could talk to their bots in a machine-to-machine generated solution. Those might need an okay via digital signature or authorisation from one side or the other, but could soon become another part of daily life.

Customer service modes will change too, customers increasingly expect the same set of options when they walk into a store or branch as they do when sat at home. Many banks have DIY PC terminals for online in-branch banking that could soon morph into chatbot or virtual assistant kiosks. The branch can still have staff on hand to help out, but this increased automation.

Stores are more likely to offer in-store online service and sales features, and bots will play a part of that. But retailers need to prepare for the time when customers ask their personal bots “get me shoes like this (takes a photo or screencap of something they like) in blue” and expect their bot and retailer bots to be able to respond with the right size, colour or a choice of options, within seconds, before their interest wanes.

For bot developers today, the key will be to develop flexible services that aren’t bogged down in any one line of inquiry or platform. While large businesses might be building a number of bots to deliver different support services, customers will soon get fed up of the need to switch between them, or having to choose between many confusing options. And access to constantly growing and evolving AI services will provide a better customer service than one fixed or focused on a particular niche.

And these bots will need to be able to cope with input from other chatbots, while being able to handle multiple languages, speech understanding where needed – with features like natural language processing and understanding all par for the course.

From a business perspective, meeting customer needs will be vital to maintaining their interest and loyalty over time. Bots need to be available on the customers’ device of choice, and as the conversations are initiated by bots, they need to know when is a good time to chip in with news of an offer, or alert a customer to a pressing choice or due date for a bill.

Certainly, as chatbots move from the early generations into thoroughbred models, the need for flexibility and greater customer focus will drive future efforts.

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Chris Knight

Chris Knight writes about where technology will take us next, from the power of neural networks, artificial intelligence and chatbots, to the endless worlds promised by augmented and virtual reality. From the latest in gadgets and hardware to how digital businesses can use technology to grow, Chris makes the future clear and understandable to all.

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