Traditionally, most brands’ customer service is done via phone, with a small shift in recent years towards email and live chat. These new options have allowed customer care agents to operate more efficiently, helping multiple customers at once -- as opposed to one at a time with traditional voice.
In 2016, customer care started the shift into the messaging world, where conversations don’t disappear like web chats, but stay in place even when the customer or agent steps away. This continuous conversation, which occurs over time and even across devices, allows agents to better use their time and be more efficient when handling customers. It also allows agents to be more effective in solving issues, because they have the option to consult with colleagues to get the right answer for customers, rather than hurriedly providing any answer in the heat of the moment, causing repeat inquires and customer annoyance.
The messaging world also opens up the possibility of chatbots, which are the next frontier in customer care efficiency. Chatbots have been attempted before for customer care, with “virtual assistants," but the problem was that they were usually standalone experiences, disconnected from the contact center and human agents. This new wave of bots that’s starting to roll out for retail customer service is what we call “hybrid bots” - human and bots in a single thread, sharing the workload.
What are hybrid bots?
Think of them as work-sharing between bots and human agents: bots tackle some of the around 50% of customer care inquires at large retailers that are simple and routine -- easier to automate -- and the human staff answer the more complex questions, to keep the service level high and bot-frustration low.
To make it work, bot conversations need to be measured in real time and flipped to a human if a customer is frustrated. Hybrid bots must also do what we call the “tango,” where bots and human agents are part of the same conversation thread, and hand off to each other, back and forth, depending on the questions asked. It’s not a one-way escalation. For instance, you could start with a human agent, who then moves you to a bot to complete a simple task: updating a shipping address or payment card, for example.
Executing a successful bot strategy
To accomplish these two key attributes of a successful bot strategy, retailers need to remember that bots are agents, and need the same management as humans: escalations, quality control, measurement and so on.
Retailers should also be transparent about bots vs humans to customers. Our consumer research shows that 80% of consumers want to be told clearly if they are speaking with a bot. They do not want to be tricked. The same research also told us that consumers don’t give bots a pass just because they’re bots. They hold bots to the same standards a human customer support agents. If the bot is frustrating, they will blame the retailer, not the technology.
By measuring bots the same way they do humans, retailers can leverage hybrid bots increase customer care efficiency and reduce costs, but without a hit to customer satisfaction.
Rurik Bradbury is global head of research and communications at LivePerson. Previously vice president of the identity solutions group at TransUnion, he is a long-time tech industry executive at start-ups such as Trustev, where he was CMO before its acquisition by TransUnion, and at larger companies such as Intermedia, which Bradbury grew into the leader in cloud business email services. He is based in New York. LivePerson is a provider of mobile and online messaging business solutions, enabling a meaningful connection between brands and consumers.