To Bot or Not to Bot? Neither, Start with a Strategy

By Mark Kersteen from Kustomer and Maggie Lin from Solvvy.

Customer service automation is the hot topic of conversation these days, and more specifically, how bots fit into the mix. While intelligent automation is core to both Solvvy and Kustomer, we encourage our customers to not simply take an automation-centric or bot-centric approach, but to first take a step back and identify what your key goals are.

We’ve seen companies jump the gun and add a bot because they felt like everyone else was doing it, only to find it delivered sub-optimal/disappointing results.

In reality, not everyone is using a bot—but many are experiencing mixed results. In our recent webinar, 67% of participants shared that they aren’t using any bot technology today and 72% of participants who have tried a bot have experienced issues.

So, what can we take away from this? It’s important to see the big picture and identify where automation can add value, rather than implementing point solutions like bots and hoping they make an impact. We’ve all been there–it’s easy to get swept up into adding a piece of technology just because it’s what everyone else is doing.

In this post, we’ll tackle a key goal we’ve frequently seen from our customers: how do we increase agent productivity to improve our overall customer experience? We’ll share how intelligent automation can effectively support this goal in two ways by 1. increasing efficiency for customers and 2. increasing efficiency for agents.

Increasing Efficiency for Customers

Empowering customers to resolve questions on their own means agents handle less repetitive questions (and less tickets). This translates into getting back to customers faster and focusing on high-value questions that require the human touch. Increasing efficiency doesn’t have to be complicated. Depending on where you are in your support team maturity, ways to improve include investing in content, intelligent self-service, and end-to-end automation.

Content
While it seems obvious, when companies are scaling quickly, a lot of focus is given on agent enablement versus customer enablement. But, at the end of the day, customer enablement helps agents at scale. In an organization where customer interactions are often 1:1, investing in content is 1:many and scales with the business. Taking the time to create help center articles can save your support team hours of copy-pasting a macro that should be public to customers. Publishing content that helps customers find answers on their own frees up your agents to deal with more complex questions.

Intelligent Self-Service
Investing in content is step one. Intelligent self-service is the next step to making it easy for customers to discover this information. With intelligent self-service, it’s important to understand the underlying technology used to determine user intent. A lot of bots fall short here because they are keyword-reliant or rules-based and ultimately aren’t able to understand the context of a question and the relationship of words unique to a specific business. Self-service eases the workload for agents, but if a bot is falling short of expectations, it can create friction when a customer reaches an agent and has to repeat their question.

End-to-End Automation
The ability to fully automate repetitive transactions is a huge opportunity in customer service. These could be questions around order lookups, returns, refunds, and subscription changes. By handling these types of questions without an agent, support teams can direct attention to complex questions and take on proactive initiatives that scale. The interface for end-to-end automation can be guided steps, or it could be a bot in a chat window. Whichever way you deem the best customer experience, it should be clear that it’s not a human and that it is an automated experience.

Increasing Efficiency for Agents

We’ve spoken with agents who have expressed anxiety about chatbots or other technologies taking over their roles. It’s totally natural to be wary of new technology, but our answer has always been clear: We don’t think there’s anything to worry about. In fact, there’s a whole list of ways that bots and automation can assist agents and make their lives easier. Bots can take over the boring, repetitive, and mechanical tasks that drive agents up the wall, freeing up their time to focus on the interpersonal connections and more emotionally complex tasks that likely attracted them to the profession in the first place.

Conversational Forms
Just because it looks like a bot and acts like a bot, doesn’t always mean it’s a bot. Conversational forms are robots in disguise. When a customer opens the chat window, they’ll feel like they’re chatting to an immediately available agent. The conversational form will start asking the customer questions. These include important queries for identification—name, email address, phone number, shipping info, and whatever else is necessary—as well as more quantitative questions, like asking them to describe the issue they’re having. This way the customer gets the instant feedback they expect on chat, and the agent can jump into the conversation with all the info they need.

Suggested Responses
The scariest thing about pursuing a chatbot strategy is the lack of control. Once you switch on that feature, there’s nothing standing in between your customers and an algorithm that may not always provide the best experience. Enter suggested responses. This system works like the suggested text feature on your phone, but just for service. A computer processes the conversation and generates answers, but instead of sending them straight to a customer, the agent gets them first. This speeds up their reply time, and the system can also learn from the agent’s choices to become smarter. The more agents use the system, the better it gets at helping them, so you can be certain that automation is helping your experience, not holding it back.

Further Uses for Automation
There is a whole world of automation-enhanced solutions to everyday problems for your organization—and the majority of them work behind the scenes. Using an automated system to suggest tags, categorization, macros, and helpbase articles for your agents can save tons of time, and can be much simpler to set up and operate than a customer-facing chatbot. Assisting your agents’ everyday workflows and reporting may not be glamorous, but it can have a massive knock-on effect towards streamlining your experience and increasing efficiency. As Peter Johnson, Kustomer’s VP of Product, summarized in our recent webinar: “Automation is not just about helping the customer, it’s about helping your support organization scale, and identifying areas the product team can improve.”

Final Thoughts

If we can leave you with one bit of advice to take away, it’s this: before pursuing a bot or automation strategy, do your homework and consider your options. It’s crucial to have a strategy, and that you don’t just jump right in. As Kaan Ersun, Solvvy’s SVP of Marketing, advised on our webinar: “Number one, define a strategy, and figure out where the bot can be useful to you, where it won’t work, then pursue new opportunities. Start with the big picture, then move towards implementation.”

Look at the data available to you, and use that to define your strategy going forward. Take some time with your reporting, and see what the most common issues are and where customers are asking for support. Once you start spotting patterns, those can dictate where you’ll go next. Maybe something as simple as an updated help page or self-service tool can cut your service volume in half? If your agents are constantly doing the same things over and over again, solve for those issues first. If your goal is to increase efficiency, then you should be focusing on finding the best method, not using chatbots for their own sake. By looking at the patterns within your support organization, you can start identifying issues that are holding back your experience to dictate your strategy, which is great practice as a whole. That’s the best way to figure out how automation will fit in.

With the right groundwork, you can be certain that when you do start to explore and use new technologies, your efforts will be a success—and will make a meaningful difference for your customers.

The Truth About Bots and Intelligent Automation

84% of the attendees of our recent webinar, The Truth About Bots and Intelligent Automation, consider Customer Experience Automation a priority for their strategy going forward. What options are available for the automation-minded company, and will a bot deliver amazing service AND make you breakfast? Well, not quite. We got to the bottom of these questions on air, and you can too from the recap below.

Watch the recording here.

Peter Johnson, Kustomer’s VP of Product, and Kaan Ersun, Solvvy’s SVP of Marketing, are both authorities on bots, automation, and using intelligent technologies for better service and support. They discussed the pros and cons of the solutions out there, and made some suggestions for picking and enabling more intelligent service.

Is Automation a Priority?

To kick things off, we started with a poll to take the temperature of the audience. We asked, “Is adopting a customer experience automation solution, such as bots, a priority for you / your organization?” The results were surprising—the majority of respondents were actively pursuing an automation strategy. Here’s the breakdown:

Yes, this year: 40%

Yes, next year: 32%

Yes, within 2 years: 12%

Not a priority: 16%

Terms You Need to Know

To level-set, PJ and Kaan laid out an overview of the terminology they’ll be using when discussing this complicated technology.

While “intelligent” technologies have existed since Roman times, the term “Artificial Intelligence” came into use in the 1950s—though truly intelligent products just started becoming widely available over the last handful of years. Machine Learning is a more specific application, referring to the ability of machines to advance their program and “learn” from their mistakes without additional programming. A good example is the recent Google AI that beat a world champion at Go. Deep Learning is an even more advanced subset, describing computers that use algorithms that mimic the neural networks of the human brain—meaning they can learn on multiple levels without human supervision.

Bots—Are They All They’re Cracked Up to Be?

But how are these advancements being used on a practical level today? Bots are already taking on a variety of service and service-adjacent tasks within the enterprise, from Digital Marketing and DIY Service, to use cases involving virtual assistants. However, these experiments are still in their early stages. While they may help scale your service, they require a lot of effort to build, and lack customer understanding and the ability to deliver a quality, memorable experience. When you look at the cost and effort to build one versus the level of experience they provide, the math is a bit off.

As PJ put it:

“You’ve probably contacted or been contacted by a support system that tried to act like a human being, but clearly is not. One of our best practices is not to try to seem human, because it can really hurt your brand image and experience.”

On top of that, they aren’t exactly plug-and-play. Service teams have to create replies for every possible input, and they need to be customized for the relevant terminology and details of your business. Actually integrating them with your existing data systems can be a headache, plus they need ongoing maintenance every time you add a new feature or product.

Who’s Using Bots?

Bots may not be the tech overlords they’ve been billed as (yet), but other applications of automation and intelligent systems can supe up your support. And, it’s probably not too late. In our second poll, we learned that most attendees haven’t started using bots yet:

We asked, “What has been your experience with traditional bot technology in your CX operations?” and these were the results:

We use a bot today and love it: 9%

We use a bot today and have encountered some issues: 12%

We use a bot today and have encountered many issues: 12%

I don’t use any bot technology today: 67%

From Bots to Conversational Experience

Before you start experimenting with bots, it’s good to know your options. As Kaan recommended:

“It’s key to have an overarching, holistic automation strategy first—then you can deploy bots as point solutions.”

Bots are a part of this strategy, but not the only focus. Instead, you can also use automation in conjunction with other integrations and platforms to create a stronger experience. Conversational forms look like a chat, but can be used to gather customer info and issues before handing off to a more capable agent to handle the issue. A system that automatically suggests responses to agents works the same as a bot, but uses the added layer of human oversight to learn the right way to respond by tracking your agents’ decisions. And automation is useful for suggesting tags, categorization, macros, helpbase articles, and assisting workflow and reporting—all things that can speed up your experience and make it more efficient, without directly interacting with customers.

As PJ summarized: “Automation is not just about helping the customer, it’s about helping your support organization scale, and identifying areas the product team can improve.”

Kutomer and Solvvy work together to make conversational experience a reality. If you submit a question to Solvvy and can’t find the answer, you can choose to instantly open up a chat in Kustomer and get the answer. Kustomer’s conversational form then collects your personal information, then connects you with an agent who knows your whole customer history.

Where to Begin?

Where do you start the process of using automation or bots strategy if you haven’t already? Kaan had some advice: “Number one, define a strategy, and figure out where the bot can be useful to you, where it won’t work, then pursue new opportunities. Start with the big picture, then move towards implementation.”

Adding to Kaan’s advice, PJ suggested going straight to the data: “First thing: Look at your reporting, and see where you have the highest level of support volume. Look for patterns, see which questions your customers are asking, and what the most repetitive tasks are for your agents?”

If you’re taking a wide-angle approach and carefully planning your strategy, instead of leaping head first into messing around with a bot, your initiatives are much more likely to be a success.

You can always watch the recording HERE, and for more great insights into service, experience, and technology, follow Solvvy and Kustomer.

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