Chatbots have been around since the ’90s, but they still don’t work (yet)

Replacing customer service agents with machines has been common practice since the '90s - and frustrating customers for just as long. So why should chatbots be any different? Verint's Martyn Riddle explains.

When Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems launched in the mid-’90s, they were hailed as the way of the future in the customer experience sector. Designed to enhance the customer service journey, IVRs rose in popularity in service-oriented organisations as they pledged to save customer service agents significant time, and save organisations significant dollars.

And while IVRs certainly did live up to some expectations, many organisations found their customers became increasingly frustrated with the technology due to unclear menu options and an inability to solve complicated issues. Customers felt IVRs complicated their experience rather than enhanced it.

Fast forward to 2018 where chatbots are gaining popularity in the sector. There is a lot of hype surrounding the technology – natural language processing, artificial intelligence, and a perceived low-cost way of handling customer enquiries.

However, it is a one-dimensional view to see chatbots as a low-cost alternative to a human customer service agent. When deployed as a standalone solution with rigid decision paths and static knowledge bases, chatbots can easily frustrate customers and cause more problems than they solve.

Customers are time poor and have a low tolerance for automated processes that are complicated and time wasting. If they are paying for a service, they demand excellence and value a streamlined exchange. Implemented as a multi-dimensional solution that utilises context, process awareness, continually updated dynamic knowledge bases and transactional intelligence, true Interactive Virtual Assistants (IVAs) can indeed fulfil this need and add significant value.

Technology should never replace the human touch. In fact, in recent global research, 78% of our survey respondents told us they enjoy having their grievances heard, problems-solved and requests handled by a real person; not a robot.

Customers are happy to self-serve until they have a complex issue. Then they want to speak to a human – someone who knows the history of their issue and is able to pick it up from where the technology got them too (that is, they don’t want to have to explain the entire issue from the beginning).

This is where technology and human touch can and should work hand-in-hand. If organisations can implement IVAs to enhance the work of their customer service agents, they will be able to deliver an engaging and memorable customer experience.

While chatbots can have more functionality than their IVR counterparts, using them as a replacement to human agents may very well relegate them to the list of customer experience technology that couldn’t keep up. Alternatively, using IVAs in conjunction with human agents as a way to enhance the customer service experience could very well be the way of the future.

Martyn Riddle is marketing director, Asia Pacific and Japan, Verint.


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