Customer service: How to keep the balance between human and virtual

Customer service: How to keep the balance between human and virtual
George Skaff is CMO at TouchCommerce. George has over 25 years of progressive experience in the computer industry, and has demonstrated a proven business expertise in marketing and strategic partnerships for various sized companies in high technology and services areas. Prior to joining TouchCommerce, George was a principal at MARKETify providing executive marketing consulting services for small and medium size companies. Previously he was CMO at Silicon Graphics Int'l and also held vice president of marketing positions at DigitalPersona, Wyse Technology and NEC Computers. He also served as president and general manager of Avatar Peripherals and spent several years at Logitech in a variety of marketing roles.

(c)iStock.com/Xavier Arnau

With web-enabled devices within immediate reach for almost everyone in today’s internet-connected world, the high standard of consumer expectations in customer contact and experience is on the up.

Previously, consumers may have telephoned a brand for help or perhaps even sent them an email; now, it is far quicker for them to find a way of making contact via their device – whether it’s via the web, social media or SMS – in order to access the answer they need.  

It is very clear that people like to take control and ‘self-serve’ to find the answers to their questions, online, at any time of day.

According to Forrester Research, 84% of online adults now attempt to answer their own questions using digital self-service applications. Their analysts found that 53% are likely to abandon an online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to a question they may have.

On top of this, the analysts have also been quoted saying that ‘emerging technologies will drive a company’s competitive differentiation through customer service’.

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise either, as five years ago Gartner predicted that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with brands without interacting with a human, meaning technology will have evolved and become a major influence in future customer experiences.   

The time to act is now

Based on this shift in behaviours, brands are working hard to update their tools and services to enable consumers to find their way around their websites and ordering platforms, to deliver the very best service and maintain high satisfaction levels.

Tools such as FAQs, automated guides or video tutorials are making it easier for people to find answers to simple questions themselves.  However, based on the abandonment statistic I mentioned earlier, it’s important to also have other methods available for those consumers who may not be able to find the answers they need via these self-service routes. 

When the automated-to-human transition can be done naturally and seamlessly, the consumer will embrace the artificial intelligence involved, rather than be deterred by it

In times like these, there remains a need to be able to interact with the customer via a live, human interaction in order to resolve their more personalised or individual query.  Here, full-service intelligent ‘live chat’ is a highly favoured option by many brands, who are able to intelligently track a customer’s movements around the site and identify when they are looking for help and reach out to them via a live chat conversation thread. 

While chat engagements can be more effective and have a higher first-time resolution rate than the self-service route, there is the operational cost to consider as this can be higher due to the need of having dedicated customer service representatives on hand to manage these interactions.

Enter virtual assistance

The sweet spot for forward-thinking companies will be to integrate a level of automation in between self-service and live agents. With the evolution of technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual assistant (VA) chat tools, advanced self-service technologies are coming of age and today can deliver the round-the-clock intelligent support that consumers crave, while reducing pressure on live agents.

In fact, many innovators are already piloting technology that balances automated assistance with human agents.

For example, our new TouchAssist VA bridges the gap by delivering a human-like chat experience, yet with the ability to transfer to a real customer representative if more personalised support is required.  The intelligent VA lets consumers talk to it using natural language, and it is able to understand the intent of the questions being asked, as well as ask clarifying questions.

This personalises the interaction and delivers an enhanced automated experience for the consumer, which will engender take-up.

A smart VA should also be able to seamlessly and instantly connect to an actual person within the same customer interface, preserving the context of the conversation, if needed.   

For example, a VA should be able to gauge that a consumer needs to be transitioned to a live chat agent when the automated chat bot isn’t able to understand the question being asked, the user expresses that their question hasn’t been answered or frustration is being vented.

When the automated-to-human transition can be done naturally and seamlessly, the consumer will embrace the artificial intelligence involved, rather than be deterred by it.

Ultimately, brands today need to put the needs of consumers first and be able to deliver the answers to their questions as quickly as possible, as competitor sites are only a click away. 

By delivering the combination of self-service, VA and live chat, they can provide consumers with a rounded service that delivers the answers they need when they need them while at the same time enabling brands to reduce demands on live agents and improving the overall customer experience.

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