Member Article

Is your chatbot Covid-19 proof?

Hi, how may I help you? Please can you tell me where my order is? Certainly, your order is currently being shipped to you. It is estimated to arrive with you on Friday. Is there anything else I can help you with today? No thanks, goodbye. Goodbye.

Back in 2019 Gartner estimated that over 60 per cent of businesses would have a chatbot by 2021. And it’s no surprise, a chatbot is a cost effective customer support mechanism that can streamline the way an organisation deals with run of the mill customer queries.

However, then the world as we knew it changed.

Covid-19 has made drastic changes to the way that businesses operate.

Digitalisation and automation have both understandably been fast tracked with many sectors having to reimagine their business model and look to a more blended approach as life has moved increasingly online. A quarter of 300 senior industry executives surveyed by Barclays believe that the pandemic has accelerated a ‘technological revolution’ in the UK. Where last year the omnichannel experience was a source of competitive advantage; it is now an absolute necessity. Why? Because research shows that now over three quarters of people do some or most of their grocery shopping online, compared to less than 60 per cent a year ago, Amazon sales have shot up by 40 per cent and the Office of National Statistics reports that over a third of total retail sales are home delivered or click and collect; an unprecedented level that isn’t expected to decline anytime soon. And it is not just retail. Almost all sectors from finance through to automotive are experiencing a rise in digital activity, whether it is purchases, fact finding or account management.

The problem with an exponential rise in digital activity is the fact that it results in an exponential rise in customer support. Customer service agents, many of whom are working from home, are being swamped with queries and support requests from customers. Call waiting times for EE during April rose to over three hours, the same for British Gas; and EasyJet, in the wake of the refund scandal, seemingly didn’t answer the phone at all. Even John Lewis Partnership; a renowned and award winning customer service specialist, struggled to respond to the barrage of customer queries around online delivery.

During lockdown the number of customer service #FAILS on social media increased more than tenfold. Brands were clearly struggling to cope with customer support demand, even those with chat bots. The reason for this is because traditional chat bots are not conditioned to a post-Covid world. They are great when faced with a simple one-dimensional question, but the queries were understandably becoming increasingly complex. The functionality was not good enough to deal with these situations in an efficient and secure manner, meaning that they were automatically referred back to live agents. This further compounded the problem as the increased volume meant that orders were being missed and the level of contact drop offs were also rising; resulting in the loss of valuable revenue at a time when the bottom line was king. Not unsurprisingly therefore analysts are recalibrating to focus on smarter automated customer service solutions. This means going beyond the predefined script of the past few years and using cutting edge technology, machine learning and AI to create contextualised understanding. This enables the bot to solve more complex problems and provide high level support to agents such as the ability to give real-time information and document retrieval from a legacy system or the know-how to retrieve vital information such as historical transcripts, customer journeys, and interaction timelines before even being asked.

Irrespective of whether Gartner’s prediction will turn out to be correct, what is clear is that everything has changed and the market needs something better. Consequently, it’s less a case of how many organisations will be using chatbots next year, and more a case of is the solution fit for purpose? A question that many organisations should be thinking about right now or risk customer churn and poor acquisition and conversion rates in this post-Covid world.

Trent McLelland, Commercial Director, Vroomf

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Vroomf .

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