Digital transformations come in many shapes and sizes and can be incredibly beneficial for business, providing an opportunity to greatly improve customer service and the overall customer experience. One of the most powerful up-and-coming technology's for enhancing customer experience is the chatbot – the human replicating computer program that can communicate with customers on behalf of your brand.
Consumers today expect efficiency, ease, and authenticity when they interact with a company, and failing to live up to this expectation can lead to lost opportunities. Truly understanding a customer's needs can help companies improve not only the buying experience but also their bottom line. Below I discuss how chatbots can improve your customer experience and why you should race to make take advantage of their benefits.
Chatbots vs “Old Virtual Assistants”
I'll admit that when I first heard about chatbots I immediately associated them with their predecessors – the first “virtual assistants”. I always remember them as being utterly useless, a real disaster (especially that paperclip.)
This was a time in the not-so-distant past, but considerable innovation – led by leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning powered by the cloud – has created the chatbots we are starting to see today.
The main difference between the out-of-touch virtual assistant and the modern-day chatbot is that the former was simply programmed to respond to common queries, while the latter has the ability to continuously learn and adapt. Not only from direct interaction, but also by leveraging large volumes of external data about how users interact on the internet.
Today's sophisticated chatbots have the potential to be extremely useful and, in many cases, surpass what an agent, self-service portal, or mobile app can do. And, when properly integrated, can provide a natural, easy, and efficient experience for the customer – enhancing the customer journey and generating greater income for the business.
Enabling a new Digital Channel
In the hyper-connected digital universe, users demand the ability to interact with one another effortlessly. This has led to the rise of online messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Slack.
But this trend is rarely reflected within business, and frequently mobile phone providers, banks, energy providers, and hotels will force you to use other communication channels to liaise with customer service teams – most likely a website, an app, or by calling an agent.
Chatbots may be about to change this; a chatbot can easily be embedded into a messaging platform, such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp, alleviating the time spent navigating different platforms, or sitting on hold with a phone agent, and instead getting to the root of the problem or query quickly and easily.
“Organic improvement” vs disruptive differentiation
If you're serious about customer experience, then you'll already know that gatherering a consistent 360 view of the customer to analyse the trends that enable data-driven personalisation can be a rewarding, if arduous, task.
We usually refer to this as “organic improvement” and, although it represents a tried and tested method to improving existing capabilities, it's likely your competitors will be taking a similar approach. In short, it won't make you to stand out from the crowd.
Chatbots represent an opportunity to be disruptive. With every interaction, the chatbot gains more actionable information about your customer base. It is constantly learning how best to interact with your customers to get the most favourable result, and will be able to remember past conversations and learn from new ones, building up a stash of data over time to respond to a greater range of incoming queries.
An omni-channel experience vs a Chatbot experience
The aim of an omni-channel approach is to provide a seamless experience whether the customer is shopping online from a desktop or mobile device, by telephone, or in a high street store. The idea is to duplicate the customer journey in all these situations to improve the customer experience and simplify the buying experience – increasing the bottom line.
But, there are limitations to this approach. Take for example a situation where you need to pay a colleague or friend – whether you're in a bank, on your phone, or at your desktop, you'll still need to perform a number of tedious and pre-defined steps to achieve what should be a simple task. You may even need to perform research where to click to start the process or how to properly fill the forms – wasting your time and creating frustration.
A chatbot experience could eradicate these monotonous steps by enabling a method of communication with the bank preferable for you. The bank could simply and naturally communicate, through the messaging platform of your choice, and obtain all, and only, the necessary details (name, bank coordinates, payment date, amount, reference, etc) in the way you prefer to streamline and speed up the process, all the while enhancing your customer experience.
Explicit actions vs guessing customer journeys
The fundamental drawback of conventional business website interfaces is that they provide far more information to the user than they receive. Websites rely on the interaction of the customer to attain worthwhile information, but for all intents and purposes the customer journey is pre-defined.
Chatbots represent a different method of communication. Enabled by AI and machine learning, they rely on a bilateral information flow. Chatbots increase customer-interaction and ensure that more information is obtained from the customer, this provides businesses with more information about the customer journey, that can then be analysed to enhance the customer experience.
The future of Customer Experience
Chatbots signify a definitive shift away from website driven actions in favour of more natural human interaction. A chatbot can manage an infinite number of different communications, driven by the user's own preference, simultaneously, while a website or app can only facilitate a finite set of steps to achieve a certain task.
There are lots of ways to take advantage of chatbots, with varying levels of complexity, from simply enhancing the self-service experience (providing meter readings or resetting a password), to more complex interactions, such as buying a new service or enquiring about an existing one.
A customer will always prefer a bank that can offer a simple way to ask questions like: “How much did I spent at Waitrose this month?” or: “What’s my forecasted balance at the end of the month?” without the need to log in and check.
The banking sector is just one example. Can you imagine the difference in experience in trying to buy a pair of shoes through a standard eCommerce website vs with a chatbot you can ask: “What dark shoes do you have that are warm and comfortable?”Using a chatbot, consumers will be able to receive a quick, accurate, and complete answer to their question faster and more easily than ever before.
Isn't this just a voice assisstant like Siri, Cortana, or alexa?
The innovation of the voice assistants Siri and Cortana is highly impressive, yet, while they do a good job in converting speech to text, they can be expensive to configure and, more often than not, will simply turn your request into a web search.
If you want to find out when the next train to Waterloo departs and buy a ticket, Siri is useless. It's only by engaging with a website or mobile app, fulfilling the necessary criteria, and then completing the purchase that you can accomplish your aim.
This same request to a train company through a chatbot messaging platform could generate the answer immediately with the exact information you're looking for: “The next train to Waterloo is on platform 7, scheduled at 11:24 but delayed to 11:28. Would you like to buy a ticket?”
It is likely that, in the future, Siri and other voice interaction systems, instead of turning to a web search, will benefit from chatbots and be able to communicate together to enhance the customer experience. Interacting with chatbots, voice assistants would become the gateway to the services that a company offers
The Key business-benefits of Chatbots
New and Exciting Customer-driven Trend
Chatbots are a way to differentiate your business from your competitors. Wouldn’t you prioritise a company that provides a useful, efficient and immediate solution over a traditional website?
Increased User Engagement
Chatbots will help bridge the communication gap between you and your audience and can be utilised as powerful tools to generate a higher number of leads and then convert those leads into loyal customers.Large Cost Savings
There are significant cost-savings to be made by implementing chatbots instead of hiring staff to fulfill the same role.
How to make Chatbots a reality for your business
Chatbots are a modern and innovative solution, which will undoubtedly require a range of new skills, expertise, and flexibility to implement. Chatbots have the capacity to greatly enhance customer experience, but if they are poorly designed, configured, or implemented they could do more harm than good for your company brand and image.
This means that it will be immeasurably important to only deal with highly specialised professionals with the right combination of skills and experience to minimise disruption and drive forward the implementation procedure.
To be successful, you must remember to start small and fully embrace an Agile and DevOps environment. Ensuring that you have an initial implementation in place within the first 3-6 months is a good marker to know that you are on the right track. To learn more about why a DevOps environment is critical to digital transformation, download our guide to navigating DevOps.