How Chatbots Could Bring Some Humanity Back to Customer Support
By Tricina Elliker
There’s been a lot of talk about chatbots and their role in the future of customer support. And with good reason. Chatbots are becoming increasingly sophisticated, managing human interactions better than ever before. If they continue to expand their capabilities, this technology could easily become an important part of great customer experience.
But will chatbots replace other customer support channels?
Well, modern chatbots may have the chance to fix the issues that have plagued automated systems for years and create customer support strategies that actually do improve customer success and foster loyalty. But let’s be honest, chatbots are far from replacing the human touch.
We will always need human customer support
Chatbots, as a platform, are still relatively new, so predicting their future isn’t easy. We haven’t really seen their full capabilities. Yet they’re already sweeping the customer service space — every brand wants one. Still customers have legitimate concerns.
For many customers chatbots are a sign of increasing automation and a decreasing person-to-person interaction in the customer support space. That’s probably at least partially due to the fact that many of the chatbots floating around out there are glorified versions of those popular text-based games from the 80s. In fact, today’s chatbots feel more like early prototypes to a product not yet built. They’re hints at the text-based customer service technologies that will be built in the near future, legitimate products in their own right.
But as chatbots become more sophisticated, customers might find themselves won over by their speed and dependability. In the future, chatbots will likely offer same kind of convenience that say, ATMs provide: Performing simple tasks any time of the day or night, without the need to stand in line and wait for a representative.
More advanced versions of today’s chatbots could likely take simple, robotic tasks and easy inquiries off the plates of busy customer service reps, leaving them more time to talk through complex issue that need more time and attention.
Learning from the past: If it is broke, fix it
Companies really are paying more attention to customer support issues. The current system is so broken that customer support horror stories have become a staple in comedy, and the top brands know it. It’s way past time to shake things up. And chatbots could be one tool that helps with that.
That’s why in April, when Facebook Messenger launched their own chatbot platform, chatbot channels proliferated. Since their release less than four months ago, brands have released over 11,000 chatbots on Messenger already. These bots cover everything from retail customer support to cheeky cat gifs to flower delivery orders. On the surface, they look like a pretty big success. Unfortunately, most of the time chatbots are little more than branded search engines.
When considering how to integrate such technology, it’s important to remember that automated customer service systems are old news. Phone-bots have been asking for caller information and helping customers route to the right departments for quite a while now — in a slow, plodding, robotic way that tends to drive even the most patient customers off the deep end now and again. And though these systems have received more notoriety for their problems rather than solutions, the concept of automated customer service still has merit.
Of course, chatbots aren’t really there yet. And it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be able to perform every aspect of customer support. Much in the same way bank tellers and ATMs split the work of personal finance, automated systems like chatbots should be focused on providing supplemental tools that support human customer support representatives. They should avoid trying to replace human representatives outright.
Customer support consultant, Blake Morgan, wrote in Forbes that she thinks the Facebook Messenger chatbot technology can make customer support easier for both brands and customers because it integrates into a platform users already have and know, it gets rid of redundancies that drive customers crazy and waste representative time, and it automatically keeps better records so both parties can easily refer to previous conversations. Those are some big advantages. Imagine what it might look like if those systems had a way to deal with the rote questions and common issues, yet also knew when it needed to get a live person to solve an issue.
Putting the support back in customer support
There’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to chat bots. As long as developers and designers learn from the successes and failures of the automated systems of the past, these new technologies could be a huge boom for brands looking to improve their support strategies. If there’s something that phone trees can teach us, it’s that customers absolutely hate slow, complex, rigid systems that force them to act like machines.
There isn’t yet any publicly released data on whether or exactly how much chatbots might help customer support teams do their jobs better — of course that doesn’t stop experts from speculating. But the lack of data shouldn’t be all too surprising at the moment. Chatbots are just too new to make any big claims. There’s a lot of potential for success in the business side of the chatbot concept, but there’s just as much potential for disaster. These systems could become helpful sidekicks like Siri, or they could morph into a messier, even more frustrating versions of the automated phone-tree we already have.
If we approach chatbots thoughtfully and design them to do what robots are naturally good at, while leaving the more nuanced tasks to humans, machines will be able to take the boring, repetitive work and leave the real representatives with more time to actually engage with customers.
Because when done well, automation is integrated seamlessly into daily life without much customer bemoaning. Customers aren’t adverse to technology as a whole, they just hate when they’re forced to act like robots in order to navigate messy automated systems.
In all the excitement over technology and cost-saving automation, we’ve forgotten that customer support systems are supposed to be there to actually support customers. As chatbots are adopted into the larger customer support strategy, they should be viewed as a supplement, not a replacement for live representatives. When done well automation can allow humans to offer more human-centric support — the kind that customers actually love.