Skip to main content

Customer Service beyond the Chatbot Hype

Beyond the Chatbot Hype
Beyond the Chatbot Hype
2016 has been predicted to be the year of conversational commerce, and I’d say that this prediction largely held true. Conversational interfaces have become more and more mainstream, and their support by AI and bots has become all the rage. While people more and more turn to their smartphones and Google to find answers to their questions, companies are increasingly looking at bot support to increase the efficiency of their call centers.
But where is reality?
In their 2016 hype cycle on emerging technologies Gartner places
·      Conversational UIs in the innovation trigger phase with a predicted time of 5 – 10 years to mainstream adoptions
·      Machine Learning on the peak of inflated expectations with a period of 2 – 5 years to mainstream adoption
Forrester Research in their recent AI tech radar places virtual agents and machine learning into their growth phases of their respective life cycles, giving them 5 – 10 years to mainstream, while acknowledging a successful trajectory.
So, clearly, AI and conversational systems are strategic.
At the same time Abinash Tripathy, CEO of helpshift, a leading helpdesk company providing users with instant, proactive, and personalized in-app support, feels that “we are closer to IoT than to having really helpful bots”.  Some bots are actually harming the customer experience.
And he is right.
Why? Several reasons. Essentially artificial intelligence, driven by machine learning or deep learning, is not yet intelligent enough. Too many bots are still driven by decision trees, which severely limit the possible conversations that the bot can serve.
Second, bots’ ability to understand natural language is still lacking, albeit improving, and probably improving fast.
At the same time a handover to a human agent, or another bot – think bot-swarm – is often poor or non-existent, leaving the customer with an unresolved question and in limbo.
This leads to a poor customer experience.
Additionally, the bot’s, as well as the overall help system’s, integration into a knowledge base is crucial, but often underdeveloped. A customer query needs to be translated into a meaningful query to the knowledge base and/or additional information. Think “What is the status of my recent order?” or: “I cannot receive calls but can dial out?”.  This needs deep integration into a corporate knowledge base as well as transactional systems.
While a human agent can cover the lack of systems integration, a bot cannot achieve this. A bot is depending on the intelligent, and continuous indexing of corporate knowledge.
Again, poor customer experience.
In summary, Abinash maintains that “the need most bots are filling should not require an artificially intelligent conversation. If they are, they’re probably not doing it very well (yet). Rather, the best chatbots allow users to interact with their surroundings (like the baseball game example), act as refined search engines, or provide real-time updates”. At the moment “Chatbots are best used to relay simple updates”.
But, wait! On one hand AI and bots are part of the future and then they are not really useful but harm the customer experience. Isn’t that a contradiction in itself?
No, it is not. Merely a question of Thinking Big while Acting Small and doing first things first. As I have written before an important part of providing good service is being available to help the customers on their preferred channels, at the time of their choosing, and at their pace.
And one of the main channels is the smartphone, the second is chat. Additionally, people are starting with search before going for direct support. So, the way to help customers is an integrated, intelligent, efficient service offering that helps them getting to the information that they want with minimal effort on their side.
The keywords here are: Mobile, app, search, and chat.
Combining this we arrive at an offering that offers customer service directly in app, with an integrated, local knowledgebase, integrated and embedded chat, as well as the easy ability to turn the conversation into a voice (phone) conversation. Due to being embedded into the app, this offering also helps the agents by delivering contextually relevant information that shortens time to resolution. The same works for embedding this offering into a web site.
Add a back end that efficiently supports the agents with automation, workflow, collaboration tools, a clean user interface, and that integrates well with community systems, knowledge bases, other OLTPs including CRM systems, and the enterprise- and web content management systems and there is a strong foundation for improving even further.
Customer Service Infrastructure

Once this foundation is in place, AI and bots can be deployed in a useful manner, first starting in a learning-only mode, then more and more engaging in customer initiated as well as company initiated interactions. These bots can ensure quick reaction; they gather missing relevant information can already offer solutions for the simpler problems. Minimally they keep the customer engaged and do a seamless handover to a human agent. This does not only help the customer, but the agent, too, as she is prepared and can dig right into the problem at hand. As the chatbots continue to be supported by a learning system they ‘learn’ from ongoing conversations and therefore the problems they solve can become increasingly complex. This fact, plus their ability to support the agent via continuously suggesting good solutions based upon the conversation flow and the knowledge base further increase the efficiency of the supporting agents who can increasingly support on more challenging problems instead of being in the need to ask repeatedly for the same information and answer the same ole questions over and over.

Last Year's Top 5 Popular Posts

A Love Affair - Nimble Smart Contacts for Outlook Mobile

Social Selling pioneer Nimble has an awesome start into 2017. First it got number 1 in CRM satisfaction by G2Crowd earlier in January, then friend and CRM godfather Paul Greenberg named Nimble a winner of the 2017 CRM Watchlist awards, and now Nimble announces the Smart Contacts add-in for Outlook, a deep integration into Outlook for iOS, with an integration into Outlook for Android coming soon. The Nimble Smart Contacts add-in brings the power of Nimble’s view on contacts to Outlook for mobile users, after the widget and Outlook add-on already offered this functionality for the web- and Outlook clients. The add-on follows the philosophy that for most companies the e-mail account is still their CRM system; given this, this is a straightforward enhancement. Nimble acknowledges that there are two main email systems used in businesses: Gmail and Office365, and now fully supports them both. This integration delivers the profiling data that the Nimble back end gathers practically at any plac…

Mass Distraction - The Case for a Consolidated Marketing Platform

These days, customer experiences increasingly need to be delivered with the help of technology. This does not mean that direct interactions and people are no more important in marketing, sales, or service; on the contrary, but that an increasing number of customers is using the web, social media, chat, or an app to identify suitable products or services or to resolve an issue, when needed. The Customer Executive Board found that 57 per cent of the buying process is already completed before sales personnel get engaged. A Cisco retail study confirms the American Express findings and states that around 60 per cent of all in-store purchases start their journey electronically. The American Express Global Barometer claims that 60 per cent of all customers abandoned a purchase because of poor service experiences. Over the past 20 or so years the way products and services get sold and customer service as well as marketing get delivered to customers changed dramatically. Gone are the times wher…

Google and SAP - A Marriage in the Clouds

On Mach 8, 2017, SAP and Google announced another marriage in the cloud during Google’s Cloud Next event: SAP HANA is certified on Google’s Cloud Platform GCP, and is generally available now. SAP Cloud Platform and more products and solutions are to follow. The Google Cloud Launcher marketplace will be utilized to offer and deploy to and for customers and partners, starting with SAP HANA, express edition, which is already available, too. Further topics that are covered by this partnership are ·Improving Google’s containerization technologies for enterprise workloads ·Security, privacy, and integrity of customer data in the cloud. As part of this SAP software shall act as a data custodian (NB: How that works in legal and political environments remains to be seen) and joint solutions for access control, governance, risk and compliance shall get developed ·Integrate Google’s G Suite into SAP applications. This has already been implemented for Identity and Access Management. More on the still f…

Clash of Titans

Following all those announcements of AI, machine learning, IoT, IaaS, PaaS and what not over the past months, I was beginning to wonder where the big business software vendors are going. What is the game plan of Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, SAP? How does newcomer Adobe fit in there? Maybe Amazon and Google, too; or Facebook. It is a time for another Quo Vadis – this time: Quo Vadis, industry? Clash of Titans In the last about 2 – 3 years we have seen a strong acceleration of innovation, or at least talk about it. -Cloud computing, offering nearly unlimited scalability and elasticity of computing resources has become main stream. Cloud computing also allows for nearly 100 per cent uptime -Since the advent of the iPhone (yes, I know this was earlier than 2013) the proliferation of sensors has increased a lot, resulting in them becoming cheaper and cheaper, allowing for an increasing number of data rich applications -This has also driven fast mobile connectivity, which has become nearly u…

Watson meets Einstein - Elementary my Dear Holmes

This week Salesforce and IBM announced a global strategic partnership to deliver joint, AI based solutions based upon Salesforce Einstein and IBM Watson, their respective AI platforms. The upcoming solutions will be designed to “deliver everage artificial intelligence and enable companies to make smarter decisions, faster than ever before. With the partnership, IBM Watson, the leading AI platform for business, and Salesforce Einstein, AI that powers the world’s #1 CRM, will seamlessly connect to enable an entirely new level of intelligent customer engagement across sales, service, marketing, commerce and more.” IBM Watson will be connected to the Salesforce Intelligent Customer Success Platform in a way that augments the customer specific insights that are delivered by Einstein with its structured and unstructured data that comes from a variety of sources, in order to be able to use specific as well as more generic, yet industry relevant, information. “Together, Watson and Einstein wil…