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The Generic ‘Chat Now’: Virtual Agent or Live Chat?

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

A couple months ago I had a question about an online order I had placed several days earlier. After searching through the information on the website in an attempt to self-serve with no success, I started a live chat session. I was connected to a live chat agent relatively quickly, but then spent over 30 minutes in a chat that felt like it was lasting forever and, in the end, delivered no real resolution to my question.

It immediately became obvious to me that the live chat agent was juggling multiple – and likely too many – chat sessions simultaneously. To try to fill the long gaps between his responses, I received canned ‘sorry for the long wait’ messages with random small talk questions about my day and comments about how much I was going to love the item I had ordered. This quickly became tiresome – I wasn’t there because I wanted to chitchat. I just wanted to an answer to my question!

I certainly don’t blame the agent for creating such a poor experience or for ultimately not having access to the information I needed. When implemented properly and with realistic internal expectations of agents, live chat can be a great digital support option. Unfortunately, I know my frustrating experience isn’t a fluke or an uncommon occurrence. That is one reason why customers looking for a quick answer may shy away from starting a conversation with a live chat agent.

This is something that organisations implementing a self-service virtual agent or chatbot should keep in mind, regardless of whether they are integrating it with live chat. Why? In the Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor, conversational AI expert Laura Ludmany explains:

“Be sure your virtual agent is prominent on your pages. Make it obvious that it is a digital, automated tool with wording such as ‘Please ask our Virtual Agent’. Avoid using confusing or vague terms such as ‘Agent’ or ‘Chat Now’ as these can make users think it is a live chat tool and may prevent them from starting a session when they are trying to self-serve.”

Customers are more comfortable with and increasingly seeking out digital self-service options. In response, organisations are also increasingly deploying conversational AI tools. However, if those tools aren’t easily accessible or clearly identified as the place to self-serve (without having to engage with a human) then both customers and businesses are missing out on their benefit.

Rest virtual agentLet’s take a look at the successful virtual agent implementation at Rest, one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds by membership, as a great example of Laura’s recommendation in action. Rest understood their large customer base of digital natives were most often starting their experience on the website. In order to enrich the experience for those digitally savvy customers, they added virtual agent Roger to their website in 2016. This not only gave Rest the distinction of being the first Australian superannuation fund to service members’ enquiries online 24/7 with a virtual agent, but also resulted in overwhelmingly positive feedback from their members.

If you visit the Rest website today, Roger maintains a prominent spot on their homepage and throughout the website. They make it easy for users to self-serve as they navigate around the site. Rest has also always communicated clearly with users that Roger is a self-service tool, not a human live chat agent, with both the user interface (UI) and Roger’s welcome informing users they are interacting with an automated virtual agent. This means that the expectation is immediately set for Roger as a self-service option.

It can be tempting to use a generic ‘Chat Now’ as a way to try to engage users both looking to self-serve and chat with a human agent, but customers don’t want to feel tricked. They appreciate the transparency of knowing what kind of support they are going to receive – automated or human-assisted – before initiating the engagement. It sets the tone for the experience and gives customers more control over how they get the information and support they need.

Interested in more conversational AI expert insights and tips? Download the full Guide to Selecting a Virtual Agent or Chatbot Vendor: Forget the Technology & Focus on Experience and check out this collection of posts from the 2021 Customer Service Week & CX Day Blog Celebration.

Stop Trying to Improve Efficiency at the Expense of CX

By Mandy Reed, Global Head of Marketing

Earlier this year my niece starting reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie book series, and I’ve been rereading them along with her. It’s been fun having discussions with her about the books and hearing what part of the stories stuck out for her as most interesting or surprising about Laura’s pioneer life. It’s also made me grateful to have modern conveniences like running water and refrigeration!

Over the course of history, humans have always looked for ways to improve efficiency and productivity. Think about all the inventions you studied in school, like the printing press and cotton gin, that initiated key moments of change for industry and society. Innovation drives progress, but that progress doesn’t innately mean a better experience or quality of life for everyone.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have meant more potential use cases for automation technologies. Businesses see this as an opportunity to improve efficiency and productivity – and it is. However, being too focused just on those goals often means they overlook the importance of the experience.

Forrester analyst, William McKeon-White writes about this as part of his research on help desk chatbots. He points out that prioritizing efficiency over experience leads to the critical element of user success being overlooked. If users don’t have a good experience with the chatbot, they won’t keep using it. And if users aren’t coming back to the tool, there’s no way for the organization to achieve positive longer-term outcomes.

It’s important to understand this as you build your business case for a conversational AI tool. As chatbot expert Rachael Needham explains in a vendor selection guide:

“Having a clear business objective will dictate much of what and how the chatbot is implemented. For example, is the objective to reduce phone calls or live chats – and how will that be tracked? Is it to improve customer satisfaction – and how will that be measured? Another key question to ask when thinking of customer experience is: are we really meeting the needs of our customers or are we just trying to make a score look better?”

Improving productivity and efficiency are worthy and important goals but shouldn’t be attempted at the expense of the user experience. Your chatbot or virtual agent should be designed to create a better experience by providing quick, easy support. Reducing phone calls or live chat sessions because you’re giving customers a better way to get help, without having to take the time and effort to engage with a contact center agent, is an efficiency improvement that’s positive for your business and your customer experience (CX).

In a recent discussion with ISG, Creative Virtual Founder & CEO, Chris Ezekiel, pointed out that he has seen a shift in the focus of organizations when implementing conversational AI. Five years ago, the business cases for these solutions were heavily centered around contact deflection. However, as businesses come to recognize the competitive advantage of improving CX, that focus moves to creating better experiences as the key priority.

This doesn’t mean that organizations shouldn’t have the goal of improving efficiency and productivity with conversational AI tools. Instead, they should identify those objectives as part of their strategy to improve the overall experience. Often, you’ll find they go hand-in-hand. Efficiency improvements can be a crucial means by which the experience is made better. Expert conversational AI professionals understand the best ways to balance these needs and set goals that go beyond just making a score look better to achieving real success.

For more tips on creating a conversational AI strategy and building a business case, check out these resources: