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It’s been a turbulent past few years for business, and unfortunately, the short-term economic outlook, with whispers of a recession growing into a near-constant tremor, looks murky at best. For customer experience (CX) leaders, such precarious times usually mean two things: cutting costs and automating wherever possible. To those ends, doubling down on customer-facing chatbot and automation solutions is certainly a tantalizing proposition, so it’s no wonder that the chatbot industry is expected to hit a $102 billion industry by 2026, up from $17 billion in 2020.
Chatbots can’t out-human the humans
However, the current crop of chatbots have an abysmal reputation among consumers and businesses who deploy them. And, of course, you still need to employ human agents in the most valuable customer service conversations. Therefore, CX success in this next chapter of our economy won’t be determined by those who automate the most via chatbots. It will be in their ability to best deploy a division of labor between bots and human agents that puts bots in the best position to succeed cheaply, and humans in the best position to make an impact on the bottom line.
Here are three ways CX leaders can start doing this today.
1. When deploying bots, “value-based routing” is a must
The sad fact of the matter is that I see very little to no thought being put into routing when it comes to chatbot deployments. There seems to be a “deflection at all costs” mentality where the first line of engagement is always a bot. As consumers, we’ve all experienced the horrible results: Regardless of the nature of your inquiry, you’re inevitably dealing with a bot at first, and only after you’ve exhausted your patience and demand a human are you escalated to a different channel. (Hopefully, it’s to a human, but often it’s to email support or an FAQ.)
CX leaders need to take a much more thoughtful approach to routing by first understanding that not all inquiries should be first attempted by a bot. Upfront planning in determining the types of interactions that are best left to human agents will pay huge dividends in CSAT and NPS scores.
To maximize savings while maintaining or even improving the quality of customer service interactions, CX leaders need to implement a “value-based routing” system of deploying bots. What this means is that low-value interactions will automatically be routed to bots, and high-value interactions are automatically routed to humans. Value is measured by the risk of revenue loss and potential of revenue gain.
This stands in opposition to “complexity-based routing,” where the divide between bot- and human-led inquiries is based solely on the complexity of the interaction (i.e., how technical the nature of the inquiry is).
Many times, there is an overlap between low-value and low-complexity. However, in very important circumstances, they differ. One common example of this is product inquiries. Oftentimes, these inquiries can be “resolved” by pulling simple product information and sharing it with the customer, which is fairly simple and can be easily handled by a bot.
However, delegating product inquiries to a bot is a huge missed opportunity. If a consumer is asking questions about a product, then there is a high likelihood they are interested in purchasing. A well-equipped human agent in this situation can develop rapport with the customer, find out more about their interests and why specifically they are interested in that product to create a much more enjoyable and productive customer experience. The result is a much higher likelihood of purchase (and probably repeat purchases from the customer) than what the bot could perform by just resolving the inquiry.
In routing a single product inquiry to a human, the brand can generate an incremental amount of revenue or loyalty. But scaled over time, the value-based routing system can potentially make or break the costs of a CX organization, particularly during times of economic turbulence.
2. Employ empathy at scale
As businesses grow, it’s challenging to maintain excellent, personalized customer service — what worked for 1,000 customers will not work for 100,000. CX leaders need to invest in tools and processes that result in “empathy at scale,” or technology-enabled, personalized information that can create a genuine bond with a customer.
In practice, empathy at scale gives human customer service representatives valuable info like what the weather is where the customer is calling from, or what they recently purchased. CX representatives can use this data to connect with each customer and get their feedback on how the product is working for them. When a genuine and natural conversation is paired with effective problem solving, you’ve laid the groundwork for a repeat customer who trusts your brand.
And this kind of empathy is exactly what customers are demanding. With 68% of consumers engaging with brands under the expectation of empathy [subscription required], only 38% of consumers feel like brands actually do demonstrate empathy consistently. Needless to say, a chatbot alone can’t provide the empathetic experience people are looking for. But humans do have that capacity. And the technology is available to empower them to be empathetic and develop human-to-human rapport in every conversation.
And there are real consequences when customer expectations aren’t met. In the case of Peloton, their thriving word-of-mouth success came to an abrupt halt in 2021, largely due to hundreds of unhappy customers publicly sharing their poor experiences. Peloton’s mistake was not only that they couldn’t solve their customer’s issues but they also didn’t have a CX team trained and equipped to show empathy and understanding. If customers are willing to share their concerns or issues with the company directly, the company should recognize these inquiries as not only valid but also valuable.
3. Deploy bot-human collaboration that minimizes customer effort
The goal of CX, and the focal point of any well-designed CX integration, is to get the customer’s issue solved quickly and easily. We recommend to all of our clients to prioritize the customer effort score (CES) metric when it comes to gauging the success of their CX program. CES is a survey that is sent to consumers after an interaction with a brand that asks, “How easy was it to get your issue resolved?”
CES is a simple but incredibly powerful metric, one that has been proven to be the strongest indicator of customer loyalty. When it comes to improving CES, bots and humans together can equal more than the sum of their parts if they can share information, learn and escalate customer problems seamlessly, getting to the resolution in as few steps as possible.
There are two processes that leaders must put in place to get the magic of the 1 + 1 = 3 CX equation. First, whenever a consumer explicitly requests to speak to a human, that request must be honored. There are few worse customer experiences than asking for an agent and getting stonewalled. Just think of your last phone call to your local cable company. Second, when an inquiry is escalated from a bot to a human, the handoff must be seamless. All the requisite information about the consumer and why they engaged in a chat in the first place must be given to the agent in a way that most quickly allows them to take over the conversation. Any time the consumer needs to repeat information, they are putting in more effort than they should.
Every business works hard to attract customers, and poor CX can be an unnecessary fumble at the finish line. In uncertain economic times, any fumble becomes incredibly costly. To create lasting, positive relationships with customers and win their repeat business, decision-makers must use CX technology to better solve issues and do it as efficiently as possible. CX should be thought of as an omnichannel operation, with chatbots, technology, and humans all working together to solve customer problems and establish positive personal connections with customers. As with any kind of technology, chatbots are best used to enhance the customer experience, not replace it.
Amit Sood is the CTO and head of product at Simplr.