Rise of the Chatbots

Rise of the Chatbots

/ Operations, People, Development, Technology
Rise of the Chatbots

How contact centers can employ chatbots effectively.

A little while ago I recalled a former agent telling me how excited she was about her new role as a chat agent. She later went on to tell me about this story she had using chat solutions.

When a member logged in to the company’s portal with their assigned credentials they saw details about their medical claims, benefits, etc.

Members can also contact customer service through chat, but a chatbot assists them before agents can be assigned.

The chatbot lists several examples of questions it could help answer. If a customer’s question was challenging to answer, the chatbot would assign a chat agent to the customer’s inquiry.

In this incident, the chatbot assigned my former agent to the customer’s inquiry. A minute into the interaction, the agent identified that she needed the customer to provide a few pieces of sensitive information. However, the customer was reluctant to do so. They thought she was still chatting with the chatbot and not to my former agent.

I later found out that even though the chatbot mentioned connecting the customer to an agent and provided the agent’s name, the customer felt it was a chatbot asking for her personal information, which caused the customer to log off the session and call customer assistance to get her questions answered.

Deploying Chatbots Right

A few months ago, I decided to develop a chatbot for the call center team. I used Power Virtual agents, which are available on MS Teams. I learned everything about it and created a few conversations or flows.

Before getting into the actual developmental stage, I created a flowchart of the top questions and broke it down by each line that the call center took. I also made power automated flows that retrieved information from external sources.

However, as I was building the bot, and from my personal experiences with chatbots, here are a few tips I learned:

  • Keep it simple. Chatbots can help, but if they span across too many sources of information, they are confused about how to assist their customers. This leads to customer frustration.
  • Employ user testing. Test internally and then with actual users. Add a brief survey at the end, with ratings and with the ability for the customers to provide open-ended feedback. However, even after the chatbot has been deployed, keep an eye on the analytic reports and review random chat conversations to identify bugs or errors, fix them, and test them.
  • Test internally and then with actual users.
  • Once deployed, check to see if your chatbot serves its purpose: to answer questions. If it’s unable to do so, it’s time to go back to the drawing board to find out what needs to be done to help it serve its purpose.
  • Map it out. If your bot’s tasks are relatively simple, such as ordering food, or providing information about a store, such as hours of operation or location, you can create a simple MS Word document of the customer’s journey.
  • Suppose your chatbot assists with complex questions, such as “when my shipment will arrive” or “details about my purchase,” then use MS Visio or something similar to draw out the whole flow. When I created my chatbot, I used a lot of sticky notes and a whiteboard to identify the flow and determine if it made sense.
  • Review the map. Sometimes developers may miss things, so have someone else look at the flow as if they were using the chatbot to assist with the various inquiries. This way, the flow is relevant.
  • Agent hand-off. Introduce your chatbot as a chatbot, and don’t make my former colleague feel that she is a bot and confuse your customers. Also, make it easy for a customer to stop working with the chatbot and get handed off to an agent. Further, let the customer know that they are being handed over to an agent for assistance.
  • Document the processes. Train and document what chat agents can say and do. Chat agents need to use the same knowledge resources that your call center agents use; this way, everyone is on the same page.
  • I recall a few years ago when I was chatting with my internet service provider (ISP), where the agent provided me with a program that would increase my internet speed while reducing my monthly payment, a deal made in heaven, I thought. The agent stated that I was enrolled in the program, and it would take 24 to 48 hours to take effect.
  • I felt it was too good to be true, so I logged into my account after three days, and there were no changes. I reached out via chat and phone, and every agent denied that the program existed, but I had the entire chat conversation saved to my email. In the end, the ISP apologized and stated that they couldn’t honor it.
  • Use clear terminology. Make sure your bot can recognize the words used by your customers. If one customer calls a food item pizza, and the other calls it a pie, make sure your chatbot can recognize what your customer is inquiring about. Your bot needs to take advantage of natural language processing (NLP) to understand your customer.
  • Personalize the conversations. If the chatbot appears within a customer’s profile, ensure that your chatbot uses the customer’s name and other information to assist with the customer’s inquiry. If the chatbot appears on a public-facing website, collect the customer’s first name, email address, and the reason(s) for using the chatbot for assistance.
  • Keep the knowledge base accurate. Ensure that the knowledge base the chatbot pulls from is up-to-date with the most recent changes and that the communication flows also reflect those updates.
  • Simplified user interface. As I mentioned before, keeping your chatbot simple is vital. Avoid responses with lengthy paragraph messages or providing the user with too many options for a single inquiry.
  • For example, a user submits an inquiry and is provided with four or five chat messages, one after the other. Ensure that the user interface is easy to understand, such as the icons used to send messages, and there are minimize, cancel, and clickable options within messages, to name a few.

I don’t believe chatbots are evil or that their primary purpose is to annoy customers before getting them to an agent. I feel that they need to be designed correctly with the end-user in mind and not another tool for the customer to play with to keep themselves busy.

MY FAMILY’S FRUSTRATING MULTICHANNEL EXPERIENCE

I understand that contact centers attempt to provide multiple channels, like chat but also email, social, and video, so that their customers or potential customers can contact them with questions.

But are all contact channels equal?

A few years ago, my dad wanted to buy airline tickets for a trip he had a few months away, but he didn’t want to make his bookings through the airline’s website. Instead, he wanted to know if he could pay for his round trip ticket at the airline’s airport counter.

Being the technology-savvy one in the family, I was drafted by my mum to assist dad with his ticket purchase.

I went to the airline’s website and tried to perform a search using their search bar, but the pages that came up were not relevant to what we wanted.

This message box followed me through the website on every page, asking if I needed any help. It looked friendly and seemed like it had the desire to help.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a one-way ticket through a house of horrors.

I asked my question, as the chatbot requested, and it provided me with three links with snippets of content. I started to feel that I had reached my destination and I could help dad with his ticket purchase. But the content was irrelevant as I read through the pages.

So, I tried again, another three links, and still nothing. I spent over 30 minutes searching through information with no end in sight.

Ahhh, the frustration!

Like any other person in the same predicament, I was faced with deciding what to do next. I had two options - call customer service or send them an email.

I chose to call customer support and was stuck listening to elevator music for 10 minutes, at which point I decided to send an email, to which I received a response after two days about what I needed.

The message stated that we could purchase tickets at the airport, so we decided to hop in the car and drive to the airport to buy dad’s tickets.

But when we get to the airline’s counter the staff said they don’t let customers make ticket purchases. I thought to myself, the nightmare continues.

So, after showing them the message on my phone and after the counter staff made a few calls, my dad bought his tickets. I was happy that they didn’t turn us away and could make an exception.

In terms of the customer experience, I felt that the experience using the various channels of contact was quite irritating. After exhausting the multiple channels available, we ended up with the wrong information.

If we had been turned away at the airline’s counter, we would have boycotted the airline and placed it on the family no-fly list. However, the counter staff did come through, and we are thankful for that fact.

I like to give the company the benefit of the doubt and say that they placed these different contact channels for us to receive an answer to our inquiry to reduce the strain on their customer service team.

However, the channels were in place but not helpful, which could lead customers and potential customers packing off to their competitors.

If not that, at least marinating customers in their frustration and ready to unleash their irritations when they speak to a real person, such as the customer service staff.

Mark Pereira

Mark Pereira

Mark Pereira is a Trainer and On-Site Supervisor at Briljent LLC. He is a Certified Professional Trainer (CPT), Certified Customer Service Professional (CCSP), and Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (MCCT). Mark is a learning leader who applies what he learns to continuously add value to his team while also implementing proven teaching methods to improve retention while taking calls, effective coaching, engaging agents for increased productivity, and leading with empathy. Mark has a bachelor's degree in Commerce (B.Comm.), and currently lives in Indianapolis, Ind.

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