Why You Need To Automate Customer Support Now

Paul Pinard

Up until a few years ago, social media dominated the digital world, creating a new way of sharing content, managing customer support, and chatting around the world. We all got used to it and came to expect instant gratification and simplicity from everything digital.

Then in 2015, messaging apps such as Messenger, Whatsapp, Kik, and Telegram overtook social media in terms of users. This created a shift in the way we get information online: Conversation became the new way of sharing—the new interface. That, of course, had a strong impact on the service industry, which consequently faced a drastic increase in online interactions. As a result, companies today are needing to find ways to efficiently manage the increased requests while still providing outstanding customer support.

The industry numbers speak for themselves: 60% of respondents believe that one minute is too long to be on hold, 42% complain about the need to speak to different agents, and 78% terminate contracts because of poor support. This amounts to $1.6tr annual losses due to poor customer support in the US alone. Clearly, something needs to change.

What can companies do?

Hiring more agents would be the default solution, but most major companies currently have thousands of support agents and have reached a plateau in productivityHiring new people doesn’t really improve the stats.

Writing more FAQs and support content could be another solution, but support personnel know that most people don’t bother to go and look for an answer—they want to be told directly and in real time. Also, every customer believes their issue is unique and wants personalized support.

The answer is not more agents, nor new content—surely the best solution is automation.

But how can we automate parts of customer support to provide instant and interactive answers on different channels? By using conversational technology that integrates agents powered by artificial intelligence.

“Chatbots are making their way into the landscape of customer relations with the opportunity and promise to offer a better customer experience. The hype is as strong as the benefits this new communication channel can bring: a simple interface, an enriched customer relation with personalized recommandations, a 24/7 availability, etc.”

—Olivier Laborde, Innovation & Digital Transformation Leader / Author, @labordeolivier

Of course, it’s only natural to feel apprehensive when thinking of AI. After all, according to The Guardian, “72% of Americans are very or somewhat worried about a future where robots and computers are capable of performing many human jobs – more than double the 33% of people who were enthusiastic about the prospect.”

However, when talking about customer support automation, we’re not talking about humanoid robots telling you to turn your machine off and on again. We’re talking about chatbots. Chatbots are computer programs capable of understanding human language and replying accordingly. They’re not physical beings; they’re an interface you can chat with on your phone or laptop.

“For me, chatbots are full of promises, even if they still have a way to go. ”

—Jérôme Colombain, journalist High Tech France Info, @JeromeColombain

Today, the goal of chatbots is not to understand everything but to handle a selected number of topics, such as invoice management, order tracking, and account management. These are simple and repetitive tasks that do not require the added-value that humans bring. By prequalifying requests, managing simple questions, and routing customers to the right services, bots also make the lives of support agents much easier.

“A chatbot can efficiently respond to simple customer questions or manage appointments. However, chatbots will not replace apps (unless maybe the most basic ones) or human customer relations. Their strength lies in their ability to reply instantaneously to simple requests and to qualify demands before redirection.”

—Camille Jourdain, blogger and author, @camillejourdain

A good example is our collaboration with a major French service firm that described how an increasing number of demands were overwhelming an already overstretched customer support service department. We sat down together to identify the most frequent conversations with their customers and determined which ones could be automated. Usually, we focus on automating conversations that can be qualified as simple: exchanges of 3 or 4 messages, for example, where an answer can be easily provided.

The solution we implemented was to automate these with a chatbot to provide 24/7 availability while reducing the support workload. This follows what we call the receptionist pattern, in which the bot is designed to understand every user input and is capable of either handling them autonomously or redirecting them to the correct agent. In some complex cases, we combine the two: The bot manages the first part of the conversation, usually gathering customer information, and then hands the issue over to a human agent.

Today’s bots are able to accelerate the handling of all queries regarding invoice management as much as 2 or 3 times. It works hand in hand with human agents on other queries by gathering client information such as the contract number, the phone line involved, and which specific invoice or what part of the invoice is involved before transferring the conversation to the agent. They are also capable of transferring any customer to the appropriate service on the first attempt, avoiding endless redirections.

“Chatbots are key tools of good integrated customer experiences. They must not be created in an information island, but whenever possible, integrated with the company’s customer relationship management systems. The easier this integration is, the better it will be to create state-of-the-art chatbots. Also, there must be a human supervision system in place, whether the chatbot is empowering human operators or the other way around. Most of the time, artificial intelligence is powered with human originated data and content. This is particularly true with chatbots. ”

—Olivier Ezratty, tech blogger and author, @olivez

The chatbot allowed our client to drastically improve customer support satisfaction by reducing conversation duration by half and enabling fewer transfers, which positively impacted churn rate. The bot also increased the support centers’ productivity by successfully resolving 20% of all conversations. With the time gained, agents could focus on higher-value tasks like sales or personalized support, therefore generating new revenue—something all brands should seek.

This is just one example of what AI can bring to corporations today. According to Adobe’s latest Digital Trends report, “15% of organizations are currently using AI. And 31% said it is on the agenda for the next 12 months.”

Will you be one of them?

Want to learn more about customer service automation through chatbots? Reach out to the SAP Conversational AI team.

To learn more about building chatbots for the enterprise, read our bot building tips.

Olivier Laborde’s quote is a translation from his article Les Chatbots Sont-Ils Intelligents Ou Stupides ? on Forbes.fr

This article originally appeared in the SAP Conversational AI blog (previously known as Recast AI).

Paul Pinard

About Paul Pinard

Paul Pinard is a Digital Marketer at SAP Conversational AI. With strong interests in digital, technologies and innovation, his daily goal is to improve the digital footprint of SAP Conversational AI contents, products and events in order to establish SAP's leadership as a chatbot platform around the world.