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Are AI and Chatbots Overwhelming the Contact Center?

/ by Vanessa Kirchner-Leida

four robots graphic

There are seemingly limitless options of technical innovations for today’s customer service agents. Having worked in a small contact center many years ago, I can appreciate how some of these highly intelligent tools could have helped me work more efficiently. Likewise, it’s clear that these technologies are transforming today’s contact center. I sometimes wonder, though, if customers feel that they’re really being better served.

Take the new innovations of artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots, for example. From routing calls to specific departments or agents, directing customers to the most relevant answers to their queries, or recalling information specific to a customer account, the contact center is being inundated by chatbots. But as customer communications continue to become more automated and robotic, it seems that the chatbots are taking over. I wonder too if the human element is getting lost in the shuffle.

AI and Chatbots Improve Contact Center’s Self-Service Channel

I do believe that AI and chatbots play a useful role in a contact center’s self-service channel. These technologies can improve the customer experience as they direct customers to the most relevant article in a customer FAQ portal, for example. As customers continue to conduct most of their research prior to picking up the phone, they expect these smart tools to provide them quick answers.

The algorithms used in AI are also intelligent enough to understand connections across customer queries and can decipher their intent. Chatbots can even incorporate machine learning, which gives them the ability to improve their responses over time based on customers’ past queries.

Millennials, in particular, have had a big influence on customer engagement technologies, making the self-service option a must-have. And Forrester confirms this trend: “72% of consumers prefer self-service to resolve their support queries and issues.” As chatbots tend to be particularly beneficial for simple requests and offer a fast and easy resolution, the contact center improves its overall efficiency.

[Read: The Contact Center Trends to Watch For Guide]

Chatbots Aren’t Well-Suited for Complex Interactions

On the other hand, there are still many people out there (including myself) who prefer live-agent customer support, especially when the interactions are more complex. Chatbots, at this point in time, can’t think on their feet, so any kind of complicated interaction still needs a real person to resolve the issue at hand.

Moreover, it’s been my personal experience that speed plays an important factor as well in deciding how to interact with a contact center. For example, even when my query seems simple enough, if typing the question and waiting for a response takes more time than just picking up the phone, I may still call.

Chatbots Have No Charm

Another reason why many people still prefer live-agent customer service over self-service is that they would rather just talk to a human versus a robot. I know when I’m looking for assistance, more often than not, I’m communicating with a faceless, virtual world and don’t always feel like I get the attention I need.

In addition, I can speak to the “human factor” backing up today’s technology in contacts centers from my past customer service days. When I was able to engage with a frustrated customer and really listen and display empathy, to the point that I completely changed their mood—it made both their day and mine. By taking their “frown and turning it upside down,” I was able to also re-establish their trust and create a memorable experience, which in turn, strengthened the company’s brand. And as we probably all know—a strong brand grows the customer loyalty base.

Chatbots, on the other hand, aren’t empathetic or personal. As more and more companies realize that the customer experience, delivered by contact centers, has become a true competitive differentiator, they must make sure they know when and when not to depend on chatbots.

Include Click-to-Call Options

A good way to keep customers happy and your brand aligned is to include a click-to-call option, even for your self-service channels. This means that at any point during the customer’s online experience, they can click a link to call a number to receive human assistance. This is a good strategy because there will be times when simple interactions escalate into ones that are more complicated. Not including this option may run the risk of increasing frustration and even alienating customers. In other words, if self-service fails, live-agent support needs to be available to save the customer experience.

People Still Want to Connect With People

Digital transformation and technologies should never exclude personal contact and human support. In the end, we still would rather connect with people than with chatbots for complex interactions. Contact centers strategists should take to heart that every interaction impacts their brand. While human interaction may not always be possible, a good contact center strategy will make sure the customer is at the center and provide both self-service and live options wherever it makes sense. Aberdeen Research agrees: “Companies that have a well-crafted customer service approach experience 92% customer retention.”

Chatbots can successfully augment the customer experience for simple interactions but will never replace personalized and caring customer engagement that only humans can provide.

To learn more about AI and Chatbots, how to leverage customer service as an opportunity to build brand loyalty, and other contact center trends read our guide: Contact Center Trends to Watch For.

contact center trends guide cover with customer support agents talking

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