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Will chat-bots be the future of customer service engagement?

By August 30, 2017 No Comments

As of now – August 16th 2017 – my answer to that question would be: absolutely nothing.

Chat-bots let you reduce the number of people you need to answer phones and deal with online queries, so are a sure-fire way of cutting costs in your customer care centres – but the assertion that they will improve the customer’s experience with a mobile operator (or with any other business for that matter) seems to me to be quite absurd.  

Operators are certainly interested. Telenor’s 2017 strategic direction, for example, includes plans to shift 300 million calls per annum to digital self-care, aiming for an 80% reduction in calls by 2020. And why wouldn’t they be interested, when Juniper recently released an excellent report forecasting that chat-bots will deliver $8bn in cost savings by 2022.

Vodafone UK have also dipped their toes in the water, with a virtual assistant called TOBi. Thus far, however, Tobi’s empowerment is limited to answering rudimentary questions, quickly falling back on an actual agent when things get tricky.

The problem is that while chat-bots help to reduce costs, they run counter to customers’ clear preference for a human response to their problem. A recent survey of 6,000 consumers by Pega shows that while customers like online chats and social media interactions with their operator, 80% of them want an actual, breathing person to be on the other side of that interaction. Only 7% of customers who use online customer services wanted to deal with an ‘intelligent assistant’ or chat-bot.

Why so resistant? The reason that so few customers want to deal with chat-bots is that, while promising ‘artificial intelligence’, they frequently exhibit the other AI: ‘actual imbecility’.

Adrian Weckler a respected Irish technology journalist, was commenting on the unlimited plans of Virgin Media Ireland when the Virgin Mobile USA twitter bot asked him to ‘DM [direct message] us your mobile number’ so that they could call him. He wisely suggested fine-tuning the algorithm!

Customer experience is such a hot topic right now that almost any initiative is celebrated as ‘improving our customer’s experience’. In most cases, the reason a customer’s experience is poor is quite simple – that mobile operators have failed to invest in sufficient people to man the online support desk properly.

I have no doubt that the quality of chat-bot support will improve exponentially year on year, but as of right now, chat-bots degrade a customer’s experience rather than improve it. They may be the future but they certainly aren’t the present.

I’d love to get the readers thoughts on this topic. Are chat-bots better than I’ve suggested?