Helping customers to help themselves
Virtual Customer Assistants or Chatbots offer organizations a new dimension in customer service – but not all virtual customer assistants are created equal.
There's really no denying just how important customer service is today. Companies are putting a lot of time and effort into developing omnichannel strategies in order to better service their customers’ needs, as they have realized that the businesses that win the battle of customer service are the ones that will gain a clear competitive advantage.
One of the key aspects of such an omnichannel strategy is that an increasing number of customers are demanding self-service options. And when it comes to self-service, there are new technologies coming to the fore all the time that can assist organizations in keeping their competitive edge, providing customers with the solutions they want while at the same time improving the efficiency of the business.
While many of these self-service technologies have been discussed in great detail, one that remains closer to the edge is that of the virtual customer assistant. In essence, a virtual customer assistant is a chatbot designed to provide consumers with a new self-service option.
Predicated on the growing demand for artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots are designed to provide fast, easy and human-like customer service at first contact. These chatbots hold the potential to change both how customers interact with companies, and how companies themselves interact with their customers. While still in their early stages, there is little doubt that the role of chatbots in customer service will keep on advancing, as the technology they are built on does, but even in their infancy, these solutions are proving very useful to customer service strategies.
Much like other self-service technologies, chatbots are recognized as being useful in mitigating the problem of customer frustrations around waiting times and time to resolution. After all, in a world where customer service is seen as a differentiator, the last thing you want is to do is unnecessarily keep customers on hold for long periods of time.
Chatbots also offer many advantages over other self-service technologies – for one thing, there’s no need to download an app to make it work. Secondly, they tend to be both casual and useful, something that is particularly appealing to the growing millennial market. They are casual because they are conversational, which is a far more comfortable way to obtain a self-service offering than having to listen to the oftentimes complex menus delivered by IVR, for example.
However, it should be noted that virtual customer assistants are slightly different to other self-service channels, in that they seek to intervene in activities in which customers are already engaging. This means that they don’t actually operate as an independent support channel; instead, they are a technology that is added to support an existing channel or customer behavior.
So, for instance, if a customer contacts a financial services organization seeking information related to an account balance, or a mobile company with a query related to a particular item on their bill, the customer assistant can help them by drawing on the vast amount of customer data that is collected by the company, and can parse the relevant information from the database in real-time and feed it back to the customer. And because it is AI-based, it is able to learn from these interactions and thus be better prepared for future queries.
In other words, the virtual customer assistant is able to take the necessary data and translate it into deep machine learning that creates progressively higher and higher levels of intelligence. In this way, the virtual customer assistant is able to ‘learn’ the correct answer to any question over time. Since customers today are more impatient than ever and tend to expect near-instantaneous service across whatever channel they choose to use, companies can leverage the power of chatbots to meet the rising volume of support requests with quicker response times.
Clearly then, as consumers move between different digital channels in the modern omnichannel contact center, chatbots are going to become an integral piece of a broader customer service strategy.
Virtual customer assistants offer a wide range of benefits to such a strategy, including the fact that they should deliver a faster and more efficient response, meaning customers are not put on hold and dropped calls are far less frequent. In addition, they help to eliminate human errors, such as delayed responses, incorrect information or even rudeness, and – unlike human agents – they are available to answer questions on a 24/7 basis.
On top of that, being both new technology and conversational in nature, they tend to provide a more fun and entertaining customer service experience, which can be further enhanced with custom-designed avatars and backdrops.
So then, you are now asking yourself: what am I waiting for? I should immediately go out and get a virtual customer assistant for my contact center. Well, the truth is, don’t be too hasty, as not all virtual customer assistants are created equal.
As already mentioned, chatbots are able to assist with customer queries by finding the relevant information in the corporate database and providing an answer to the customer’s query. Logically, then, a virtual customer assistant will only be useful for reasonably simple queries.
Not so. There is an Intelligent Assistant out there that operates as an interactive virtual agent that is capable of assisting customers with both simple and more complex inquiries, using a conversational chat-based interface.
Unlike the majority of virtual customer assistants, this solution goes far beyond the standard simple question-answer interface. Thanks to its natural language processing, it is able to understand the intent and sentiment, and translate this to actionable transactions.
While any good chatbot will provide natural, human-like assistance, without the need for the presence of a trained customer service agent, the vast majority of these virtual customer assistants simply grab information from the organization’s FAQ page or customer knowledge base, and then pass that information over to the customer. This certainly saves the client time and effort, but it is still only helping out with very basic transactions.
What if the customer wants to do something more complicated, like add a relative to their medical aid scheme, or add another driver onto their vehicle insurance policy? This is a much more transactional requirement, and one which most chatbots would be wholly unable to provide.
With an Intelligent Assistant, however, the customer not only has the option of obtaining answers to basic queries, but they are also able to undertake these more transactional queries as well. In the medical and insurance examples outlined above, the chatbot would thus be able to answer the basic questions the customer may have about such an undertaking, but more than this, it would also be capable of actually walking the customer through the entire process of changing their policy or scheme by adding a new member.
This takes the Intelligent Assistant into similar territory as that of a human agent – not only is it able to converse with the client like a person, but it is also able to assist them with the kind of complex processes that in the past would have required them to hold on the line until an agent was free to help them.
It is clear then that intelligent customer assistants are more than simply another shift in an organization’s channel strategy – they, in fact, offer a genuine transformational opportunity to redefine customer engagement. Think very carefully about which virtual customer assistant you choose. There are, after all, very few solutions out there that can provide the same level of service (even around more complex transactions) that a human agent is able to.
[About the author] Dylon Mills is the Director of Marketing Content Strategy & Development at Jacada. As such, Dylon’s main responsibilities are to strategize, create and deliver content for Jacada’s product portfolio that align with the global Go-To-Market strategy, corporate positioning, and marketing campaigns. Dylon’s prior work experience includes Product Management at one of the top Fortune 500 Technology companies, Symantec Corporation. Outside of work, Dylon enjoys problem-solving and any project that includes building/tinkering with tools. Dylon holds a BS Consumer Economics from the University of Georgia.