Bots for Business

Chatbots: A New String in Your Customer Access Strategy Bow

The attraction for a customer service chatbot to become part of the customer access strategy is evident. By leveraging chatbot technology in customer service, businesses can build empowering experiences while cutting costs.

By Alex Debecker
June 25, 2020

There is a common goal every customer service department strives for: to deliver an empowering experience to their customers.

Perhaps surprisingly, the common goal is not “to deliver a great customer service experience.” That would be too reductive.

The goal is to empower the customer through their experience with the customer service team.

Today, this empowerment often comes through allowing customers to self-serve. In a world where 81 percent of consumers try to self-serve before eventually reaching for human help, the best approach a company could take is to simply make self-serving as easy as possible.

The core principles of a customer access strategy

A solid customer access strategy ensures that no matter where your customers enter in contact with your business, they receive excellent, unified, and relevant information.

This approach has evolved with every technological advancement. As we explore in the next section, today's customer access strategy must encompass several (vastly) different channels.

Across all channels, the strategy must follow a few core principles:

  • Help must be available to the widest array of customers and must be as inclusive as possible—inclusive, for instance, of vulnerable customers or customers with complex cases.
  • A solution to the customer's queries must be, as much as possible, provided on the spot. Customers should not be made to jump hoops and bounce from page to page or from service rep to service rep.
  • Help must be simple (in language, in access, in usability).
  • Relevant customer data must be kept up to date at all times. This ensures relevant help is provided and, again, removes hoops through which the customer might otherwise have to jump.
  • The company must adapt to consumer trends and deliver an experience that aligns to these trends (e.g., customer service through social media).

    It is safe to assume that businesses looking to deliver an excellent customer service experience must follow these core principles.

    The issues (and costs) of the traditional customer access strategy

    There are, traditionally, five customer access channels that businesses must monitor:

  • In-person. In the shop, at reception, at events, etc.
  • Online services. Online portals, websites, forums, etc.
  • Telephone. SMS, phone calls, and messaging apps.
  • Mail. Electronic and physical mails.
  • Social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

    This exhaustive list presents a few issues, some of which are huge challenges for businesses to overcome.

  • Being present and delivering an empowering customer service experience across all channels is difficult and time and resource consuming.
  • All but one (website) of these channels require human assistance.
  • All but one (website) of these channels scale linearly. The more inquiries, the more human power required.
  • Delivering a unified and consistent experience across such a wide array of channels is nearly impossible.

    The outcome is that each customer service interaction costs the business a significant amount of money. Based on HBR's research in 2017, this “significant amount” is in the ballpark of $7 per interaction in business to consumer (B2C) and $14 per interaction in business to business (B2B).

    Why are these numbers so high and, frankly, scary? Because almost nothing in the traditional customer access strategy leverages on customers self-serving.

    This changes with chatbots.

    A new, proactive, and efficient self-serving channel

    Chatbots are pieces of software that humans can interact with using natural language. The last decade has seen their meteoric rise in popularity, from fun/gimmicky toys to problem-solving, artificial intelligence–driven business solutions.

    Customer service chatbots, particularly, have conquered the hearts of larger organisations. Chances are, you've had at least one interaction with a chatbot in the last few years.

    To support these claims, here are some key findings from recent research:

  • Sixty-three percent of chatbot implementations are done to improve the customer experience (Gartner, 2019).
  • Ninety-five percent of consumers believe customer service is going to be the major beneficiary of chatbots (Mindbrowser, 2017).
  • Twenty-five percent of businesses will implement chatbot technology in 2020 (Gartner, 2019).
  • Nineteen percent of businesses have already implemented chatbot technology in 2020 (Gartner, February 2019).

    The attraction for a customer service chatbot to become part of the customer access strategy is evident. To understand it, all that is required is to evaluate their performance against the core principles laid out earlier in this article and to measure the financial impact they have on the organisation.

  • Chatbots are inclusive. Because humans can interact with a chatbot using natural, everyday language, there is no need for complex navigation and sophisticated interfaces. The recent rise of voice chatbots is pushing the boundaries of inclusivity even further, removing interfaces completely and making information accessible to individuals with limited physical abilities.
  • Chatbots increase on-the-spot help and do so faster than any other access channel. Conversing with a chatbot is instant. Through the chat window, information can be exchanged in real time and, often, without having to leave the chat window at all.
  • Chatbots are simple. A properly built chatbot is accessible (following level AA Web Content Accessibility Guidelines [WCAG]). It is intensively trained to understand as many language variations as possible. It is accessible in obvious locations (websites, social media, etc.).
  • Chatbots can connect to third-party databases to both access and update relevant customer data. This ensures the help they provide is quicker and as relevant as possible to the customer.
  • Chatbots deliver a self-service customer experience in line with current consumer trends. Consumers want to self-serve and a chatbot is an ultimate channel for them to do so.

    What about costs?

    Because chatbots are automated and self-serve, the cost per customer service interaction goes drastically down. By how much, exactly, depends on the size of the business and the industry.

    Juniper Research found that banks stand to save up to $7.3 billion by 2023—simply by using chatbots as part of their customer access strategy.

    Some elementary maths can be done to estimate the savings your organisation could make using a frontline, customer service chatbot.

    1. Calculate what it currently costs you to answer a ticket (employee hourly divided by tickets solved per hour, for simplicity).
    2. Estimate the cost of answering the total inquiries your business gets per month (across all channels).
    3. Estimate the percentage of inquiries your business gets every month that are repetitive, mundane, and could easily be automated. A simple rule of thumb is to go with 20–40 percent.
    4. Times that percentage with your monthly cost, and voilà.

    Future-proofing your customer service efforts

    Chatbots and, to a broader sense, artificial intelligence–driven automation are impacting every industry. By leveraging this new technology in customer service, businesses can build empowering experiences while cutting costs.

    Relying on chatbots also allows businesses to future-proof their effectiveness, as they scale indefinitely (at marginal additional costs, if any) and work around the clock to deliver their value.