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Customer Service Bots — A Good Idea?
You’ve probably come across customer service bots (AKA, chatbots) in your online travels. These (typically) AI-driven tools live on web sites and are intended to provide various types of conversational, chat-based assistance to visitors.
I had not been thinking of one for the SMR site, but recently, I noticed a chatbot on the home page of a colleague. I asked him how he set it up and he directed me to his marketing company.
A few weeks later, we had one up and running, too (click here to see “Amy,” our chatbot).
“Definitely” for Selling; “Maybe” for Support
On the lead-capturing side, the decision was easy: Amy fields inbound inquiries from potential clients.
“She” pops up when you land on our home page and if you tell her you are interested in possibly working with SMR, she passes you to a live agent. The agent has real-time access to my calendar and will schedule an appointment for the two of us right there and then.
To me, putting this on our site was a no-brainer. If you have a visitor’s attention, you want to act as quickly as possible before they go elsewhere. It’s especially valuable for companies that don’t staff a sales team 24/7.
As for handling a company’s support function — in our case, delivering top quality IT support — well, that’s a whole different ballgame and not such an easy question to answer…
Chatbots as First Line Support
On the support side, chatbots are there to answer questions, just as you might ask of a customer support agent on the phone. They appear to be pretty good at handling common inquiries about things like shipping status, account information, company policies, or FAQ types of questions.
The truth is, when you call a large company’s customer service number and speak to a first line agent, that human is often accessing the same database as the chatbot. So for simple things, it makes sense that the bot works just as well.
Plus, from the customer’s point of view, if the bot can respond quickly and accurately, it’s a lot more convenient than making a call and waiting on hold for a human to pick up.
“Pretty Good” Isn’t Good Enough
The challenge arises as the support issues get more complicated. It’s one thing for a bot to confirm your mortgage payment has been received. In our case, however, it’s rarely that simple.
Our customers depend on us for timely, mission critical, custom support for a broad range of IT issues. The last thing we want to do is give them generic — or, even worse, inaccurate — information.
Plus, our personal touch is a competitive advantage. We don’t have phone banks of customer support agents spread out all over the world. We have a dedicated staff of highly trained, carefully vetted experts who know our clients and their particular technical configurations.
In the future, if we consider automating some aspects of tech support, we need to make sure our customers see this as a net benefit, and that we don’t just view it through the lens of support staff cost savings.
Your Mileage May Vary
On the sales side, and provided you don’t find setting up your own “Amy” to be cost-prohibitive, I recommend looking into a chatbot for your company web site. We have been using it for a few months now and visitors seem to like it (as do we).
In terms of support, I think it will be a long, long time before a chatbot exists that can do more than 60-70% of what a highly-skilled human professional can accomplish. I intend to look deeper at the options in the coming year, but to move very slowly all the same.