The way brands and customers interact has evolved dramatically over the past few years. Even phoning up a bank with a simple customer query seems a little archaic these days. Customers increasingly opt for more accessible methods of communication like the chatbot, built-in messaging platforms and even WhatsApp. Additionally, the conversation tone has shifted from formal and professional to friendly chats that resemble the kind you might have with a friend.

Customer service is a top priority for every business – the truth being that without satisfied customers, you will soon be going out of business. But successful customer engagement can prove to be challenging in the age of technology where new channels are constantly becoming available and continually need to be integrated.

By 2020 it is anticipated that the planet will host some 6.1 billion smartphone users. And with the majority of consumers moving to mobile customer service as their primary – if not only – method for interacting with a business, the manner in which customers expect to be able to communicate with brands has changed.

The ideal customer experience allows customers to interact on the channel of their choice, all whilst maintaining the context of those interactions. Forrester analysts recently reported that the dynamic has shifted away from companies and towards digitally savvy, technology-empowered customers that are driving change. As a result, messaging applications, in particular, have forced businesses to evolve their customer communications capabilities in order to keep up.

 

Helping humans

AI-powered chatbots have become the go-to solution for addressing real-time customer queries both efficiently and effectively, but customers still very much value a human touch.Click To Tweet

AI-powered chatbots have become the go-to solution for addressing real-time customer queries both efficiently and effectively, but customers still very much value a human touch. Many businesses have therefore chosen to optimise their customer service with AI that augments human interactions, rather than replaces them altogether.

Take, for example, the case of roadside recovery. When a customer calls requesting assistance, an AI-powered chatbot can immediately access that customer’s previous call records and history via the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) database. Using this data in association with other discrete variables – e.g. the time and location of the call – the bot can quickly anticipate the customer’s needs and respond accordingly. This information, displayed to a contact centre representative, can help augment the conversation; subsequently providing a smoother experience for the customer.

This type of AI is becoming fairly commonplace across a whole range of industries, from financial services to health services to HR. And brands are increasingly opting to automate the business process of routine tasks in customer service, e.g. updating payments details and scheduling appointments. But we are now seeing more and more businesses looking for applications based on narrower, more refined AI solutions.

 

The evolution of the chatbot

While the chatbots of today are rapidly becoming a regular component of the customer service experience, it is important to remember that they are constantly evolving.

One of the most exciting ways that we see chatbots evolving is through integration. In isolation, a chatbot is effectively a programmed set of responses – analogous in certain respects to an interactive FAQ. But with integration, a chatbot can access historical data to ensure that all questions are relevant to that particular customer’s query, thus eliminating unnecessary or redundant questions and continuing to provide a smoother experience.

Furthermore, sentiment analysis can help bots detect when a customer is becoming frustrated, indicating the need for a transfer to a contact centre representative. Businesses can also integrate bots within their CRM platforms, unified communication systems, or internal databases, optimising their usefulness and making them more intelligent.

 

Bots in the future

With more and more companies using APIs to integrate chatbots within their wider ecosystem of communications, there now exists a demand for bots that interact across platforms. We can, therefore, expect to see a rise in SDKs and other frameworks for helping developers build API-driven voice bots that cross seamlessly between channels, from voice calls to message chat and back.

In recent years, the line between what consumers expect in their personal communication experiences and what they expect from their interactions with brands has blurred. Companies are increasingly being expected to engage in the same way that customers communicate with their colleagues, friends and even family members. And since the majority of bots are driven by a consolidation of natural language processing and voice-to-text – which can be applied to almost any channel of communication – brands now have the opportunity to offer customers the choice of their preferred messaging channel, e.g. Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, voice, chat or messaging.

Chatbots have revolutionised the ways companies interact with their customers, and we are only at the very beginning. As challenging as the incorporation of the omnichannel customer experience might appear to company leaders, it also forms a great opportunity to engage with customers in a new way, building more meaningful and longer lasting relationships.