With between 1.5 and 1.7% of the UK job market being call centre staff, it’s clear that people are important in customer service. Though call centres often have high staff turnover and arguably dealing with repetitive tasks plays a part. Waiting times can be high as people cost money and it’s difficult to meet demands. Automation of customer services therefore makes sense, but how?

Most people have heard of Siri, Cortana and more recently Alexa. These virtual assistants offer information and services to their owners using AI via mobile devices. Getting smarter and more efficient they have paved the way for a new type of customer service. Enter chatbots.

What are chatbots?

Chatbots are a computer-programmed messaging interface aiming to deal with customer queries without needing people. By popping up online they offer help instantly from a website or social media platform such as Facebook Messenger, Slack and What’s App.

A clever piece of computer programming called NLP allows the chat-box to react to questions by referring to a database of answers or outcomes. What’s more, chatbots can learn, adapt and improve each time.

How chatbots improve customer service

In most cases chatbots automate basic tasks and services making them quicker and easier.

RSBS have developed a chatbot using IBM AI technology called Luvo. Via webchat, Luvo does 10% of the company’s customer service by dealing with common queries such as lost cards and locked pins. When Luvo can’t deal with something, the customer is put through to a call agent who hopefully is freed up to be more effective.

Dutch airline KLM have realised they can make customer service even quicker by being accessible on social media. By launching a chatbot in Facebook Messenger, tasks such as providing boarding cards can be completed with a call agent on hand for more complicated conversations.

Chatbots therefore offer a quick exchange of information and some services at a convenient time for the customer. By bypassing the features of calling up such as elevator music, automated menus and long waits, chatbots remove a lot of the frustration.

As chatbots get cleverer, more services will become automated. But are there some services that only a person can provide?

The limitations of chatbots

When something bad happens it helps to speak to a friendly voice. For example, if an airline loses a bag, the reassurance provided by a person is invaluable. If making a complaint, having a real life conversation allows empathy and helps mend the relationship with the client. This is something very difficult for chatbots to replicate.

Some people enjoy the conversation element of customer service. People who live on their own or work from home often enjoy the idle chit chat of calling up. Though arguably we’re not yet a culture ready to hold conversations with AI or robots. There’s something a little uncanny and weird about imitating people though one day we may be more comfortable with this type of interaction.

So are they the future?

At this stage, chatbots have a place and although they can’t completely replace people, they’re a piece of useful independent technology. Being a cost-effective way to provide basic customer service, it’s certainly a way to get ahead of competitors. People are more likely to do business with you if it’s made easier.

They’re great for the more repetitive and simpler aspects of customer service, though it’ll be a while before humans are replaced completely. The current aim is to make good use of automation while still giving the personal touch. As for beyond that, who knows.


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