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It pays to be smart: How intelligent chatbots are transforming customer care

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Montri Nipitvittaya)

The Experience Expectations of Digital Consumers Are Evolving   

With today’s mobile subscribers becoming more and more digital in their mindset, behaviors, and expectations, the state of customer engagement is at an inflection point. These customers have become extremely knowledgeable about product and purchasing options, as well as competitive offerings. They are less tolerant of impersonal and irrelevant experiences, expect on-demand engagements and support, and are more self-sufficient, often preferring self-sufficiency. 

Furthermore, they have recently started shifting away from social broadcasting to more personal messaging. In fact, messaging has become the preferred, even de-facto mode of communication for more than just the Y and Z generations. To illustrate, the combined user base of the top four chat apps is larger than the combined user base of the top four social networks, with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger at a billion monthly active users each, and WeChat at nearly 850 million.   

To complicate matters further, digital disruptors such as Facebook, Uber, and Lending Club are introducing new customer engagement paradigms and transforming the relationships between businesses and their customers.   

Accordingly, maintaining relevance with this new breed of digital consumer, offering the kind of service and experiences that they expect, and engaging with them in a way that addresses their well-informed, independent, and very digital lifestyle requires a new approach. Intelligent chatbots offer the real-time, personalized engagement that today’s customers demand. 

Service Providers Are Turning to Bots   

The use of bots is on the rise. According to Gartner, by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without human intervention. By 2022, 72% of customer interactions will involve an emerging technology such as machine-learning, up from 11% in 2017. 

It is the combination of consumers’ growing self-sufficiency, together with the increasing prevalence of technology breakthroughs, which is reigning in the rise of the chatbot for customer service. In addition, other trends that are providing the tailwind for the bot revolution include:

App fatigue: Most consumers are overwhelmed with apps, and have developed a very strong reluctance to downloading and trying new apps, preferring to converse on the messenger apps they’re already on; and   

Support from tech giants, such as Facebook, Microsoft. Within one year of Facebook’s announcement of its Messenger chatbot framework in 2016, over 100,000 chatbots have been released for the platform.  

Can Chatbots Deliver on the promise of better engagement? 

As the industry has seen, the move towards consumers seeking (and service providers offering) service through chatbots is well underway. The most widespread chatbots, however, are not the sophisticated ones that can deliver on the bot dream. Rather, they are those that are used to answer simple questions, including basic product information or high-level support requests.   

These are ‘rule-based’ chatbots, which are programmed for pre-defined commands that are specific to the processes related to the request at hand. Accordingly, while adequately functional, this kind of chatbot can ultimately wind up bringing the opposite result from that which both the consumer and the service provider are seeking, since the chatbot is not prepared to handle such dynamic dialogues. 

However, service providers who want to avoid frustrations and reap the rewards of the bot promise would need to: 

Meet the expectations of digital consumers for personalised conversations: The kind of simple engagements that are prevalent with chatbots today do not account for a consumer’s need for personalized and contextual conversations that address their specific needs, their own unique journey with the brand, and the level of support they expect. 

Overcome the chasm that exists between virtual and live agents: Bots need to handle the type of engagements that traditionally live agents can manage; and, just as importantly, enable a smooth handoff from bot to live agent, when needed. 

Ensure that chatbots don’t miss out on care-to-commerce opportunities; by leveraging unique revenue generating opportunities. If the chatbot was intelligent and could know what each customer likes, needs, and wants, and could make the most relevant and timely marketing offer to address their needs, the service provider could make a significant impact on the top line. 

Ensure that the chatbot ‘understands’ the telecom-specific intents of customers: A chatbot that lacks industry domain knowledge and telecom specific intents will not be able to accurately and fully understand what the customer wants and needs. Nor would the chatbot be able to effectively address and resolve any queries or issues. 

Integrate the chatbot with mission critical business systems, such as Billing, Order Management, CRM, and more, which is critical for accessing and leveraging a full 360-degree customer profile.   

Ensure that the bot continually learns from every engagement is critical for making sure that forthcoming customer interactions and experiences are more finely attuned to each individual customer, and delivered with greater accuracy. 

Intelligent Chatbots Are Changing the Rules of the Customer Service Game

Accordingly, being able to leverage intelligent chatbots can take customer service to new heights while decreasing the cost to serve. This requires leveraging multiple advancements in technology, especially and primarily in artificial intelligence and machine learning. With these technologies in hand service providers can: 

  • Ensure that personalization does not rely solely on CRM data, but is based on a 360 customer view that also includes behavior history, channel preference, and journey patterns;   
  • Ensure the right balance between virtual and live agents, seamlessly transferring the engagement to a live agent when needed, in a way that is transparent to the customer; 
  • Make sure that the chatbot understands telecom specific intents to more accurately address the specific and unique needs of service providers’ customers; 
  • Enable human-like, intuitive engagements with cognitive capabilities such as natural language processing (NLP) and sentiment analysis. 
  • Leverage the integration of chatbots with the relevant business systems to make all the required data readily available;   
  • Empower the chatbot to turn every care engagement into a commerce opportunity, by presenting the most relevant and timely marketing offer to customers; 
  • Optimise each forthcoming engagement by continually learning from each previous customer interaction. 

When It Comes to Bots, the Smarter the Better 

With more customer service taking place with chatbots, service providers can’t afford not to endow their bots with the cognitive capabilities needed to deliver complex support in the human-like way consumers expect. The service providers who do embrace AI and Machine Learning, will have chatbots that will become an important strategic asset.  

When it comes to bots – the smarter the better. AI can endow chatbots with the ability for contextual and personalized engagements with customers, in real time and on their channel of choice – driving up customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score (NPS). In addition to this, bots that are infused with intelligence and can receive and understand the customer, with information on their habits, preferences, and recent activities, will enable the service provider to make offers that resonate, engage, and convert.    

Intelligent bots can also complete actions and transactions on behalf of the customer, reducing friction and delighting customers. Furthermore, these bots can be a source for great efficiencies, decreasing average handle time and the cost to serve by automating many of the interactions that are handled today by live agents. 

While consumers do often prefer the convenience and promise of friction-free service that is promised by chatbots, more often than not – most of today’s chatbots don’t deliver. However, not all chatbots are created equal. There are chatbots who can and do deliver on the bot promise and these bots prove that it pays to be smart.   

Roni Dvir, Digital Intelligence Product Marketing Manager, Amdocs 

Image Credit: Montri Nipitvittaya / Shutterstock

Roni Dvir
Roni Dvir is Digital Intelligence Marketing Manager at Amdocs, and is responsible for B2B marketing strategy, planning and execution. Previously she has held marketing roles at Microsoft, DBMastro, and Braun.