पोस्ट

Integrate Your Way to a Better Self-Service Experience

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

If you give visitors to your website the option to self-serve with a chatbot or virtual agent, kudos to you for recognising the importance of easily accessible digital support! Both current and potential customers appreciate being able to engage with automated self-service anytime, anywhere. However, what they don’t appreciate is thinking they are going to have an easy self-serve experience only to discover your chatbot is ill-equipped to handle anything beyond a simple question and answer pair.

I’ve been in the chatbot and virtual agent field for over 13 years and have the privilege of working with many colleagues who have over two decades of experience with the technology. Back in the early days, all chatbots were very simple question and answer tools. Rachel Freeman, Operations Director at Creative Virtual, has talked about starting in the industry in 2000 “when the focus was marketing and the novelty of the service was almost as important as the aim to increase ‘website stickiness’.” Major advancements in the technology have propelled the capabilities of today’s chatbots far ahead of those early deployments.

Unfortunately, there are still many chatbot platforms on the market that operate as simple question and answer tools with very limited conversational capabilities and integration options.  While there are specific use cases for these types of bots, quality customer self-service is no longer one of them. You will never be able to deliver the experience customers are looking for if you don’t have a tool built with an advanced conversational AI technology and the ability to be integrated with other systems.

Why is the ability to integrate your chatbot or virtual agent with other backend systems so important? Without those integrations, you are unable to deliver personalised responses for authenticated users. You can’t seamlessly escalate users from the virtual agent to a live chat agent. You don’t even have the option to deliver updates in real-time from external information feeds. All these pieces of functionality are now part of users’ expectations when they engage with your chatbot.

Given those expectations, what sort of systems should you consider integrating with your conversational AI tool? The integrations you select will depend on your self-service use cases and customer needs. Think about integrating with live chat, CRMs, voice technologies, knowledge management platforms, digital payment systems, community forums, ticketing systems, user survey tools, and contact centre platforms. Your goal should be to implement integrations that enable both you and your users to fully take advantage of the benefits of today’s conversational AI capabilities.

The big question then is: how should you go about upgrading your simple Q&A bot to an effective and integrated conversational AI tool? An obvious first step is to determine if your current chatbot platform supports the integrations you want. If not, find a more advanced platform that will allow you to create those connections. Jumpstart your upgraded tool by repurposing what you already have with your current project.

Once you have a chatbot management platform that gives you the integration and customisation options you need, don’t feel pressured to do everything at once. Take a staged approach, starting with the integrations that will have the biggest impact on improving your self-service experience. Then gradually add additional functionality to create a tool that is built for your specific needs and goals. Don’t forget to periodically review your conversational AI plan and make adjustments as your business and customer needs evolve.

We all know from our own personal experiences as customers how influential the support engagements we have with a company can be in our purchasing decisions. Take a few minutes to test your organisation’s digital self-service from that perspective. Are you delivering a seamless and personalised experience with your chatbot or virtual agent? If not, then it’s time to revisit your conversational AI strategy and identify what integrations could improve your self-service.

Gone are the days of siloed, disconnected customer service chatbots. To deliver the conversational AI engagement customers want, expect, and appreciate, you must integrate your way to a better self-service experience.

Set your Chatbot up for Success with the Right Budget

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

I think it’s safe to say that we all love to get a good deal – or at least feel like we are! – and save a little money whenever we can. I think we can also all agree that are certain times when going with the cheapest option or skimping on a line in the budget doesn’t pay off in the end. You get what you pay for, right?

A conversational AI solution is one of those projects that your organisation should be careful not to underfund. Without the proper level of financial support and ongoing funding, you will never achieve success with a conversational AI project. A chatbot or virtual agent that is treated like an unimportant side project not worthy of dedicated resources will perform like one. It will provide a poor experience and drive users away.

If you want to have a conversational AI tool that increases customer satisfaction, contributes to cost savings, generates new revenue, and improves efficiency and productivity, then your company needs to make a commitment to invest in those goals. That commitment starts with properly budgeting for the cost of the technology, the cost of developing and implementing your customised solution, and the cost of ongoing maintenance.

Budget for the technology

Earmarking a portion of your budget for the technology itself should be a no-brainer. Without a working conversational AI technology, you have no working chatbot! However, the amount you allocate for this really depends on how and where you plan to deploy your solution.

You should take into consideration your initial project plan as well as how you may want to expand and scale it in the future. Identify your integration points, calculate how many concurrent users you anticipate, estimate how large of a knowledgebase your content will require, and select the deployment channels that best serve your users. All these elements will impact which technology is a best fit for you and how much you will need to budget for that technology. An experienced conversational AI vendor or consultant will be able to provide guidance to help you scope out your technology requirements.

Budget for the development and implementation

While there are conversational AI solutions on the market that can be deployed straight out of the box with very little configuration, they will provide a very generic, basic engagement. To really create a positive experience and be successful, a chatbot needs to be customised for your organisation, use cases, users, and goals. This customisation should include integrations with other systems (such as your CRM platform, ticketing systems, or live chat) and conversational flows tailored for your users. You also want to ensure that the chatbot can respond to questions about your products, services, and procedures with specifics unique to your business.

Unless your organisation has a team with experience creating successful chatbots with the technology you select for your identified use cases and/or channels, attempting the building and implementation of your tool internally will be a mistake. Working with an expert vendor is more cost-efficient because they already know what they are doing so you aren’t paying them to figure it out. This also means you cut down on the development time and get better, quicker results.

Budget for ongoing maintenance

If a conversational AI provider tells you that you can configure and deploy a chatbot with their platform and then leave it alone to do its thing, cross them off your list immediately! Companies that invest in those solutions quickly learn that they have wasted money on empty promises. The truth is that the ongoing maintenance of conversational AI tools is what enables long-term success.

Newly implemented chatbots need more attention than well-established ones, so that needs to be reflected in your budget. During that initial period, engaging the expert vendor’s team is recommended for the same reasons you should work with them during the building and implementation step. However, after that you should have options for moving all or some of your chatbot maintenance in-house. If you choose to do that, factor into your budget costs for those internal staff members and any related trainings or licenses.

 

If the price tag of a quality conversational AI solution creates some hesitation within your organisation, consider the cost of deploying a chatbot that delivers a negative, frustrating experience for users. Putting time and money into a tool that your customers or employees won’t want to use – even if it is just the bare minimum investment – is a misuse of resources. Not only are you wasting your budget, but you are harming your digital experience and eroding confidence in your business.

Check out the Guide to Enterprise Conversational AI Pricing for more insights on budgeting as well as typical pricing models, average costs, and calculating your return on investment.

Register Now: Expert Insights on Conversational AI and Customer Service

By Scott Tompkins, Vice President of Sales

Just like a puppy isn’t only for the pandemic, customer service insights aren’t only for Customer Service Week. This week of celebrating customer service professionals and successful customer service experiences should just be the beginning of a renewed focus on your own customer service and CX strategies.

To help you keep that Customer Service Week momentum going, destinationCRM is hosting a roundtable webinar next week: Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service? I’m looking forward to hearing the panel of experts, including Creative Virtual’s Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, discuss the current trends and future possibilities of conversational AI technology.

Drawing from his own experiences and those of Creative Virtual’s global team, Chris will share expert recommendations for how your organization can maximize the benefits of conversational AI technology. He will also be delving into ways you can use back-end integrations to take your digital self-service from basic FAQ tool to a personalized, conversational interaction.

Conversational AI solutions, like chatbots and virtual agents, can have a powerful impact on customer loyalty and retention. When designed, implemented, and maintained correctly, these solutions have been proven to reduce support costs, increase sales revenue, and even reduce employee turnover. The next generation of conversational AI advancements are poised to improve customer service even more.

Register now to join us on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 at 11:00 am PT/ 2:00 pm ET for the live webinar, Conversational AI: The Future of Customer Service? This destinationCRM roundtable will be recorded, so be sure to sign up even if you can’t join the live event.

Once you’ve registered, I recommend checking out (or re-reading!) all of the posts from the Creative Virtual team that make up this year’s Customer Service Week Blog Celebration. There are lots of great insights on conversational AI use cases, customer expectations, and customer service trends.