• September 8, 2022
  • By Jamie Kennedy, director of digital strategy and customer experience solutions, HGS

3 Areas Where Good Chatbot Design Can Strengthen Customer Relationships

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As companies work to improve their customer care and experience solutions, it’s more important than ever that they respect and value their customers’ time. Research consistently finds that long wait times and unresolved issues during care-center and help-desk encounters are among consumers’ top pet peeves. At a time when more people report feeling stressed out, and pressed for time, companies that streamline their customer-service interactions will benefit from stronger customer relationships and brand loyalty.

In the world of CX, every second counts. The longer it takes for a company to resolve a customer issue, the more critical the situation can become. A protracted wait time, delayed response, or mis-routed inquiry can escalate quickly, causing a customer to feel helpless, anxious, angry, or frustrated and, in some cases, to turn away from the brand. In nearly all industries, losing a customer this way can be costly, especially if it is preventable.

For this reason, customer-facing organizations seeking to boost their CX game must focus on reducing the time it takes to resolve issues while helping customers feel “in control” of their brand interactions. Much of this can be accomplished using self-service tools. But such solutions must also be designed to appropriately escalate issues to human agents before they reach a tipping point.

As organizations work to make their customer service more efficient, many have deployed AI-driven chatbots and are working to strike the right machine-human balance. Not only can chatbots dramatically shorten wait times and expediently route customers where they need to go, they can reduce the time and workload burden for human employees and free them up to handle more complex interactions. While chatbots may never fully replace the human component of CX, they can increase customer retention, loyalty, and overall satisfaction. A November 2021 survey by Coresight Research found that 64 percent of U.S. executives were using AI chatbots to improve customer satisfaction.

Chatbots are particularly effective at improving CX at several waypoints along the customer-service journey. As a result, organizations should be working to optimize chatbot functionality in three specific areas: (1) frontline communications and information; (2) interactions requiring more sophisticated follow-up; and (3) customer-critical escalations.

Frontline Chatbots Help Customers Help Themselves

Frontline chatbots are often available 24/7 and can help brands expeditiously resolve routine and minor customer-service issues that generally take 15 minutes or less. By answering simple questions, resetting forgotten passwords, responding to billing queries and gathering real-time customer feedback, they can defuse frustration by satisfying customers’ needs for immediate gratification. In fact, 62 percent of consumers polled by Tidio said they’d prefer communicating with a chatbot over a human agent because of the wait-time reduction. This choose-your-own-journey approach empowers customers to feel more in-control of the support process. The key for experience designers is ensuring chatbots offer a sufficient array of options to help customers progress logically and smoothly through the experience.

Chatbots Provide a “Frustration Filter” for Issues Requiring Follow-up

In situations when a chatbot is unable to resolve a query quickly and accurately, it can still successfully serve as a frustration filter in two important ways: by reducing a customer’s in-the-moment wait time, and by providing an expedited path to a human agent who can attempt to solve the issue on the next touch. We characterize these interactions, which require a more specific level of customer care, as “requires follow-up.”

Chatbots that abruptly end an unresolved chat by telling a customer that “someone will be in contact” later do not provide customers with clarity, confidence, or peace of mind and leave them wondering if their issue will be addressed properly—or even addressed at all. They can spawn customer anxiety, frustration, and potential disassociation. Whenever a process requiring additional support will be initiated via chatbot, the chatbot’s AI system must be designed to deliver concrete and concise details about next steps and follow-through. This requires a thorough evaluation of both the chatbot’s support process and the follow-up support channels, which can be tailored to customer needs. As an example, an effective closure process might include providing a customer with an exact time frame for response and clearly identifying what will be included in the follow-up.

Additionally, chatbots’ ability to provide customized information during the “requires follow-up” phase of resolution can create the perception of prompt service, even if the system is still figuring out how to resolve the issue. Can the bot address the customer by name? Can it detect subtle language differences and gather the context of slang? Apart from resolving issues at this stage, effective chatbots should, at minimum, be able to provide recommendations and accurate responses and clearly indicate next steps based on user behavior patterns pulled from the interaction. Since follow-up scenarios are often longer interactions, chatbots that interact in a personalized capacity can minimize customer anxiety and distress.

Customer-Critical Situations Require Deft Handoffs

Chatbots can also play a pivotal role in situations that inevitably require human assistance, including breached accounts and fraud, missing products, delivery delays, failed refunds, billing discrepancies, and other complex issues. These situations, which are deemed “customer-critical,” are never desirable and are among the most likely to lead to extreme frustration and dissatisfaction if not handled well. They must always receive the highest levels of attention and care. In these instances, effective chatbot journeys should be able to escalate a customer swiftly and seamlessly from a chat conversation to a human agent. To ensure as little friction as possible, designers must place careful emphasis on the learning and development of both the AI solution behind the chatbot and the live escalation agent. A well-orchestrated customer-critical situation can positively reinforce a brand’s commitment to respecting customers’ time and understanding their needs. A poorly orchestrated interaction will have the opposite effect.

Humans + Machines Create a Win-Win for Brands and Customers

Well-deployed chatbots can showcase the ever-evolving synergy between AI and humans and can result in win-win situations for brands, their customers, and even their human employees. For brands, chatbots can lead to lower overall contact center costs, increased customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, and improved operational efficiencies. For customers, they afford maximum control of the customer care journey, including shortened experience times, greater satisfaction in resolution outcomes, and longer-term brand loyalty. And as a bonus, they can aid recruitment efforts by demonstrating a well-rounded AI-to-human balance and can even lead to better-trained, longer-tenured contact center employees. Ultimately, the carefully calibrated marriage of chatbot tools to traditional human interactions will be key to revolutionizing the field of CX and forging durable customer relationships.

Jamie Kennedy serves as the director of digital strategy and customer experience solutions at HGS, a global leader in digital user experience solutions. In her position, Kennedy evaluates and designs new and transformative ways for brands and agencies to help put their customers first.

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