• May 26, 2017
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmarCustomerService.com

Customers, Not Bots, Are Taking Over

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A big thank-you to the hundreds of CRM practitioners who joined us in Washington April 24–26 for CRM Evolution to discover all of the new and exciting ways that CRM technologies are changing how companies and their customers interact. (In case you missed it, check out the event coverage here, here, and here.)

A common theme of this year’s conference was that customers now have more power than ever. Once considered king, the customer today is often likened more to a tyrant, exercising totalitarian control over his every interaction with businesses. Business relationships have to be on his terms: on the channel he chooses and when it’s convenient for him, and he even wants a say in what the business does with his personal information once any interaction is completed. In this tyrannical environment, the success of any customer experience is measured not by internal company metrics but by the customer, based entirely on his own subjective criteria. Fail to meet expectations and the consequences can be dire. In customer relationships today there is no tolerance for slip-ups, no second chance to do better next time.

It’s no surprise, then, that bots—and the artificial intelligence that powers them—were on everyone’s minds this year. In a large number of the more than 40 sessions at CRM Evolution—along with the more than 70 sessions at the SpeechTEK conference and 25 sessions at the Customer Service Experience conference that were collocated with it—bots and AI came up at some point in the conversation. And that’s with good reason: With bots, company-customer interactions have advanced further in the past year or two than they did in the previous 20 or 30 years.

But it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that bots are just one more communication channel, and as advancements in communication technologies come about, increases in customer expectations naturally follow. Customers expect companies to master each communication channel (not just bots, but the more established voice, email, and social media as well). In the end, they really just want to conclude their business with as little time and effort as possible.

In the process, customers don’t want to be confined to preset dialogues or canned responses; the one thing that cuts across channels and demographics is that customers today want to be able to communicate using natural language. They want to describe their problems in their own words, and they want the responses—whether delivered by a bot or a human employee—to be equally unique and personalized to their specific needs and situations. Failing to offer a natural language interface is a surefire way to incur the customer’s wrath.

But that’s not all. As customers traverse channels, they want their information to move with them. They are completely unforgiving of companies that force them to repeat themselves when they go from an automated system to a live agent or that make offers they consider irrelevant.

The best bots, automated systems, and live employees are only as good as the information that is available to them. Every piece of corporate data that gets relayed to the customer had better be accurate and up to date, whether it’s a set of step-by-step directions to fix a technical issue with a product or a price quote from a salesperson.

If it all sounds pretty daunting, it can be. That’s why we created the CRM Evolution conference. Attendees at this year’s event walked away with some sound advice for keeping the ruthless and unforgiving customer happy, and planning is already under way for next year’s event. It will be held April 9–11, at the Renaissance Washington Hotel. Mark your calendars now.

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