Customer Service Chatbots: Benefits & Pitfalls for Customer Communication
Engaging and understanding your customers’ journey and listening to their feedback are essential elements to any customer experience programme. As such, effective and timely communication is a key part of keeping your customers happy. Communication becomes even more important when something goes wrong; especially with your service or product.
It’s not difficult to recognise that fast, easy and consistent communication, in the form your customer wants, is the ultimate aim. But how do we get there?
First, we need to explore in more detail what good communication with your customers looks like.
What does good communication with customers look like?
New customers will often reach out to you when they’re considering purchasing from you, while existing customers will usually reach out when they’re having an issue or a problem. In both cases, your communication is a crucial element to controlling and managing your customers’ experience.
Good communication is likely to feature more, or all, of these elements:
- Prompt – We all want answers fast – especially if we’re experiencing an issue or problem preventing us from using a product or service.
- Consistent – No one wants to read contradictory statements or the same repeated message which was already included at an earlier stage in the journey. Be sure to view your communication in the context of what’s been before and will go after.
- Knowledgeable – If we’re having problems or have a question, we want you to know the answer or at least shed some light on the situation.
- Efficient – We have busy lives too. We don’t want to spend excessive periods of time sitting on hold or repeating our issue to multiple people.
- Convenient – Whether this is down to preference or for accessibility reasons, we want to be communicated with in a way that’s convenient to us. We may have told you our preference in the past or you can simply reply using the same medium we got in touch with you.
With more and more companies recognising the importance of customer satisfaction and its impact on loyalty, businesses are exploring new options to help improve communication. Live chat support and chatbots are two ways many businesses are attempting to improve communication with their customers. In many ways, this makes sound business sense, and many businesses and customers speak highly of customer service chatbots.
But can we afford to lose the human touch? Are customer service chatbots causing more problems than they fix?
What are Live Chat and Customer Service Chatbots?
For years, if a customer had a question or an issue concerning a product or service, they’d either have to pay a visit to the business in person, make a phone call or send a letter.
The internet offered a further avenue for dealing with customer service enquiries: live chat. When visiting a company’s website, a customer could start a live digital correspondence with a customer service representative. It’s a two-way communication: the customer will describe their issue, and the customer service representative will ask questions and offer advice until the customer’s satisfied.
The biggest benefit to a live chat system is that it enables your customer service reps to handle multiple cases at once. Reps can only take one phone call at a time. But as they can take part in multiple live chat sessions, they can potentially delight multiple customers at once.
Plus, customers won’t have to wait so long to get the information they need. Rather than phoning a number and being put on hold while they wait for a free customer service rep, they can instead start a live chat session and get on with an additional task while they wait for their answer.
A customer service chatbot is essentially a means of automating the live chat system. Rather than a customer service rep handling the problem, a sophisticated AI algorithm will assess the customer’s needs and suggest solutions.
While Live Chats can have some issues, especially when it comes to consistency and efficiency, as a technology they are widely accepted to be a good starting point for improving customer communication. Issues with Live Chat often derive from processes the company has in place, as opposed to the technology itself, and is something that can be uncovered and resolved through the findings of a Customer Experience Programme.
Chatbots, however, are more hotly contested, with some believing they should be avoided altogether.
The Benefits of Customer Service Chatbots
Round-the-clock customer service
Not all businesses have the resources to offer the sort of instant customer service that many customers now take for granted. A major benefit of customer service chatbots is that they enable businesses of all sizes to offer high quality, round-the-clock customer service.
Communication how your customers want it
Also, when it comes to customer service, not all customers want a face-to-face interaction, and many would rather not have to make a phone call. A 2019 survey found that 30% of respondents would knowingly engage with a chatbot because they are “very helpful”. While this may appear low, it was double the number of respondents who said this in 2018.
Chatbots can offer a superior customer experience. Even the most dedicated of customer service reps can get tired or distracted. But you can rely on a good chatbot to give the customer the information they need as fast as possible.
Free up your customer support staff’s time
Chatbots can make life easier for your customer support staff too. How much time do you think your reps spend addressing the same basic issues, again and again? If you let chatbots handle routine customer service enquiries, your reps will have more time to address more complex and critical issues.
The Downsides of Customer Service Chatbots
Some believe that chatbots are killing customer service.
Not always popular with customers
A study by CGS found that only around 50% of customers would turn to a chatbot for a quick customer service question. Plus, nearly 50% of UK respondents, and around 40% of US respondents, claimed that they still prefer human customer service reps to chatbots.
A negative experience with a chatbot could even drive some customers away. For example, businesses in the travel sector can use chatbots to deliver boarding passes and itinerary information, and to compare the prices of flights and hotels. But there have been instances of chatbots failing to process essential information, and changing flight destinations halfway through a booking process. Faced with such frustrations, many customers may choose to give up and find an alternative.
Then there’s the question of accessibility. Are all of your customers computer-literate? Would they all be able to use your chatbot service? And if not, how many of your customers are you inadvertently alienating?
Are Chatbots Right for Your Business?
Chatbots certainly have their uses. But sometimes, there’s no substitute for actual human interaction. Some situations call for compassion and empathy. And some customer service enquiries are far too complex for chatbots to handle. You can read our full guide to automation vs. people here.
So, should you invest in chatbots? Perhaps it’s best to go for the middle ground: offer chatbots as one of many customer service channels. That way, anybody who’d rather not talk to a person can get the answers they need as quick as possible. But at the same time, anyone who does want to talk to a person, or who has a more complex enquiry, can still access the help they need.
Also, consider giving anyone that uses your chatbots the option to switch to a human customer service rep whenever they want. That way, if they’re unsatisfied with the service they’re receiving, or if the chatbot is struggling to meet their needs, you’ll still be able to offer them help and support.
How Can I Improve My Customers’ Experiences?
Communication is key. At Beehive Research, we work with our clients to understand more about their customers, their expectation, your performance and the practical steps you can take to drive change.
A customer-centric culture is key to delivering the types of experiences which not only meet your customers’ expectations but exceed them.