By Jeff Clifford, Project/Account Manager
I started building virtual agents and chatbots for customer service more than 12 years ago. A lot has certainly changed in that time. I talked about some of the changes in my Meet the Team interview a couple of years ago, but the industry has continued to evolve since then.
In my experience, there has been a major shift in customer expectations since 2015/2016 in the customer service chatbot industry. Pre-2014, most companies were looking to deploy chatbots that were pretty straight forward and consisted largely of FAQs, scripted conversation flows, keywords and a flat or standard UI. Some forward-thinking organisations were exceptions to that, and Creative Virtual worked with companies that took their solutions to the next level with innovative functionality like account integration to give personalised answers to logged in users.
Now, as we approach the end of 2019, chatbots and virtual agents are increasingly becoming the face of company help centres. Simple chatbot implementations are no longer enough to meet customer expectations. Customers also now expect self-service on new channels, such as Facebook Messenger and Amazon Alexa, that weren’t popular for customer service even a few years ago. The look of chatbots has also changed, with many companies now embedding their virtual agent into their own UI to give a cleaner, streamlined look and experience.
While previously personalised self-service was a major differentiator, now customers expect an experience tailored for them. Chatbots designed for enterprises have the features, functionality and integration options to deliver that. For example, chatbots are able to detect a customer’s language and country via integration with their user profile. This means the chatbot can display the user’s preferred language and can also return location-specific responses, such as a correct payment cut-off time that varies by country or time zone. Chatbots can also provide customised responses depending on where it was launched from, such as a section of your website about a particular product or service.
The goal of a seamless, omnichannel experience is becoming standard practice in organisations. Chatbots that can be deployed across channels are helping companies move away from a siloed approach to their customer service. When backed by the right orchestration platform, a single knowledgebase can be used across all channels while still delivering a specific answer based on the user’s device (such as a shorter answer on a mobile). A tight integration with live chat allows the virtual agent to pass a user over to a live agent seamlessly in the same panel while in the background passing over a full history of the conversation.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes in the chatbot industry is the use of more artificial intelligence (AI), and companies now want a chatbot that has AI capabilities. A good chatbot technology brings together different methods including semantic algorithms, deep learning, neural networks and machine learning in a way that still gives companies control. Chatbots are able to learn customer behaviours based on how users interact it with it and what suggested questions they are selecting in order to continuously improve. However, this shouldn’t be a black box. To be successful in a customer service role, the chatbot needs to have some level of human intervention and sign-off on content to keep information accurate and compliant.
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of simple chatbots out there today that leave customers annoyed and with a bad impression of the technology. The team at Creative Virtual are on a mission to help save as many of these chatbots as we can by transforming them into tools that meet customer expectations and are worthy of being the face of the company’s help centre.
The chatbot and virtual agent industry is an exciting space to be in, and I love being able to help my clients implement the newest developments in their virtual agent projects. At Creative Virtual, we’re always pushing the boundaries of what the industry thinks is possible and consistently striving to bring new innovations to the table. It gives me a real feeling of pride to see long-standing chatbot implementations evolve along with these changes and continue to deliver the service that customers expect.