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7 min read

Chatbots in Customer Service: Enhancing or Impersonalising Brand Interaction?

Key Takeaways

  • Chatbots can significantly improve cost-effectiveness and customer satisfaction.
  • However, some customers will find them unhelpful and frustrating.
  • Brands should ensure their chatbots are humanised and optimally programmed to get the best from them.

Customer service chatbots today

The inte­gra­tion of chat­bots into cus­tomer ser­vice has increased remark­ably in the past decade, mark­ing a piv­otal chap­ter in the his­to­ry of dig­i­tal cus­tomer inter­ac­tions. While the con­cept of auto­mat­ed cus­tomer ser­vice has been around for some time, it’s in recent years that chat­bots have tru­ly found their footing.

Today, they are not just a com­mon fea­ture but a cen­tral com­po­nent in the cus­tomer ser­vice strate­gies of many busi­ness­es, pro­pelled by advance­ments in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) and machine learn­ing (ML).

Chat­bots are no longer a futur­is­tic idea, but a prac­ti­cal tool used by count­less com­pa­nies across numer­ous dif­fer­ent indus­tries. All kinds of busi­ness­es are mak­ing use of chat­bots, from e‑commerce giants to small local brands. This pop­u­lar­i­ty isn’t with­out good rea­son – the ben­e­fits of chat­bots are several.

Offer­ing 24/7 avail­abil­i­ty, chat­bots allow busi­ness­es to com­mu­ni­cate with cus­tomers at any time of day – a cru­cial com­pet­i­tive advan­tage. Cus­tomers are also more accept­ing of chat­bots, as they’d rather get instant answers to their queries. Though chat­bots are a solu­tion to many of our mod­ern-day expec­ta­tions, they’re not perfect.

One sig­nif­i­cant issue, cen­tral to this blog, is the way in which chat­bots fail to be human-like. If busi­ness­es are to suc­ceed in their use of chat­bots for cus­tomer ser­vice, the tools will need to mim­ic human inter­ac­tion – in their infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing and respons­es. This human touch is what can ele­vate a chat­bot from a query-answer­ing machine to an engag­ing, empath­ic, and effec­tive cus­tomer ser­vice agent.

This arti­cle will equip you with the best prac­tices your busi­ness needs to cre­ate a suc­cess­ful cus­tomer ser­vice chat­bot. So, let’s dive in and uncov­er the intri­ca­cies of these dig­i­tal assistants:

Pros and cons of chatbots in customer service

Though they’re still being improved, chat­bots have sev­er­al attrac­tive advantages:

Pros of chatbots in customer service

1. 24/7 avail­abil­i­ty: chat­bots can oper­ate around the clock, assist­ing cus­tomers at any time. This is espe­cial­ly ben­e­fi­cial for busi­ness­es with a glob­al cus­tomer base across dif­fer­ent time zones. Chat­bots also respond to cus­tomer inquiries instant­ly, reduc­ing wait times and improv­ing the over­all expe­ri­ence for customers.

2. Scal­a­bil­i­ty: chat­bots can han­dle a large vol­ume of queries simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, allow­ing busi­ness­es to man­age peak times or sud­den surges in cus­tomer requests with­out the need for addi­tion­al staff. This also makes them very cost effi­cient as they can han­dle tasks that would oth­er­wise require human resources.

3. Con­sis­ten­cy: chat­bots pro­vide the same answers when cus­tomer queries are repeat­ed, ensur­ing uni­for­mi­ty in the infor­ma­tion and ser­vice pro­vid­ed. This offers a lev­el of con­sis­ten­cy not pro­vid­ed by human agents, who can vary in their respons­es and for­get com­pa­ny information.

4. Mul­ti­lin­gual: chat­bots can be pro­grammed to sup­port mul­ti­ple lan­guages, mak­ing them an invalu­able tool for busi­ness­es serv­ing an inter­na­tion­al market.

5. Data col­lec­tion: chat­bots can gath­er cus­tomer data, giv­ing busi­ness­es insights into cus­tomer needs and pref­er­ences. This infor­ma­tion can then be used to improve ser­vices and web­site func­tion, among numer­ous oth­er things.

6. Han­dling rou­tine queries: by automat­ing respons­es to com­mon and repet­i­tive ques­tions, chat­bots free up human cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tives to focus on more com­plex issues. This may reduce staff costs and improve cus­tomer expe­ri­ences in oth­er areas.

These advan­tages high­light why chat­bots have become an inte­gral part of cus­tomer ser­vice strat­e­gy in many busi­ness­es. How­ev­er, they’re not with­out their draw­backs. While chat­bots offer effi­cien­cy and con­sis­ten­cy, busi­ness­es are still con­tend­ing with sev­er­al difficulties:

Cons of chatbots in customer service

1. Lim­it­ed under­stand­ing and empa­thy: chat­bots may strug­gle with under­stand­ing and pro­cess­ing com­plex, nuanced, or non-stan­dard queries, lead­ing to cus­tomer frus­tra­tion. Sim­i­lar­ly, chat­bots lack emo­tion­al intel­li­gence and empa­thy, which can be cru­cial in han­dling sen­si­tive or emo­tion­al­ly charged cus­tomer issues.

2. Script­ed respons­es: chat­bots often rely on pre-pro­grammed respons­es, which can lead to repet­i­tive and some­times irrel­e­vant replies, fail­ing to address spe­cif­ic cus­tomer needs ade­quate­ly. There’s also the risk that chat­bots will mis­in­ter­pret cus­tomer intent and lan­guage nuances, lead­ing to incor­rect respons­es and cus­tomer dissatisfaction.

3. Tech­ni­cal issues and glitch­es: like any tech­nol­o­gy, chat­bots can expe­ri­ence down­time, bugs, or glitch­es, which can dis­rupt cus­tomer ser­vice operations.

4. Pri­va­cy con­cerns: han­dling per­son­al cus­tomer data through chat­bots rais­es pri­va­cy con­cerns, requir­ing strict data pro­tec­tion and secu­ri­ty measures.

5. Imper­son­al inter­ac­tion: some cus­tomers may find inter­ac­tions with chat­bots imper­son­al and may pre­fer speak­ing with a human rep­re­sen­ta­tive for a more per­son­alised ser­vice. These cus­tomers may decide to shop else­where. Some cus­tomers may even be resis­tant to inter­act­ing with chat­bots in the first place and avoid online busi­ness­es that use them.

6. Lim­it­ed scope of use: chat­bots are often designed for spe­cif­ic tasks and may not be adapt­able to dif­fer­ent types of queries or indus­tries with­out sig­nif­i­cant repro­gram­ming. As a result, set­ting up a chat­bot may be labo­ri­ous and expensive.

These chal­lenges high­light sev­er­al impor­tant areas for improve­ment when it comes to the cur­rent state of chat­bots. Busi­ness­es will need to ded­i­cate time and thought to these issues to ensure their chat­bots are work­ing effec­tive­ly and not alien­at­ing customers.

How to humanise chatbots

At the root of sev­er­al of these chat­bot chal­lenges is the way in which these tools lack human-like ten­den­cies. So, this sec­tion is ded­i­cat­ed to explain­ing how you can human­ise your chatbot.

First­ly, it’s a good idea to employ advanced nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing (NLP). This enables chat­bots to under­stand and inter­pret human lan­guage more accu­rate­ly, allow­ing for more nat­ur­al and flu­id con­ver­sa­tions. In addi­tion, you’ll want to design your chat­bot to com­mu­ni­cate in a warm and con­ver­sa­tion­al man­ner. It should be pro­grammed to use col­lo­qui­al lan­guage as this will make inter­ac­tions feel more per­son­al and less robotic.

Sim­i­lar­ly, chat­bots can be pro­grammed to recog­nise emo­tion­al cues. This means when cus­tomer mes­sages have an emo­tion­al tone, chat­bots can respond empath­i­cal­ly, show­ing under­stand­ing and care in their replies. Where appro­pri­ate, it may be a good idea to teach your chat­bot how and when to use humour. This can make cus­tomer inter­ac­tions more enjoy­able and less for­mal, though this should be used extreme­ly carefully.

Anoth­er way of human­is­ing your chat­bot is to pro­gram cus­tomi­sa­tion. Chat­bots should use the cus­tomer’s name and tai­lor respons­es based on cus­tomer pref­er­ences and his­to­ry. This can give extra con­text that deliv­ers cus­tomers a more rel­e­vant and under­stand­ing service.

Cus­tomers may also be more recep­tive to chat­bots that use emo­jis, GIFs, and images when it’s appro­pri­ate. When exe­cut­ed appro­pri­ate­ly, this can mim­ic human tex­ting behav­iour and make your chat­bot more likeable.

Though chat­bots can be excel­lent, there are always instances when a human is need­ed. Ensure your chat­bot can iden­ti­fy when a cus­tomer needs to speak with a human agent – this way, your cus­tomers will get the best ser­vice pos­si­ble. Make sure the tran­si­tion from bot to per­son is smooth and does­n’t dis­rupt the conversation.

Chat­bot tech­nol­o­gy is improv­ing rapid­ly. To ensure your chat­bot is as human­ised as pos­si­ble, make sure you reg­u­lar­ly update its script. Machine learn­ing algo­rithms enable your bot to learn from each inter­ac­tion and cus­tomer feed­back, which will improve its abil­i­ty to

com­mu­ni­cate in a human-like man­ner over­time. In addi­tion, it’s ide­al that you stay updat­ed with cur­rent trends and improve­ments that you can imple­ment to devel­op your bot.

Top tips for getting the best from customer service chatbots

Human­is­ing your chat­bot will pro­vide a more com­fort­able and sat­is­fy­ing expe­ri­ence for your cus­tomers. While it tack­les sev­er­al of the chal­lenges chat­bots face, there are oth­er areas to improve. Con­sid­er the fol­low­ing top tips to improve your use of the tool:

1. Give your chatbot a clear purpose

Defin­ing the chat­bot’s pur­pose and scope will ensure it’s pro­grammed effec­tive­ly. Start by iden­ti­fy­ing the pri­ma­ry needs of your cus­tomer base – are they seek­ing quick answers to com­mon ques­tions, tech­ni­cal sup­port, or assis­tance with trans­ac­tions? The chat­bot’s design and capa­bil­i­ties should align with these needs.

A chat­bot intend­ed for han­dling FAQs will dif­fer sig­nif­i­cant­ly from one designed for trou­bleshoot­ing tech­ni­cal issues. It’s equal­ly impor­tant to set real­is­tic expec­ta­tions about what the chat­bot can and can­not do. Over­promis­ing its capa­bil­i­ties can lead to cus­tomer frus­tra­tion because the ser­vice will drop in quality.

2. Design your chatbot optimally

The suc­cess of a chat­bot heav­i­ly relies on its user expe­ri­ence (UX) design. An opti­mal­ly designed chat­bot should offer an intu­itive inter­face that cus­tomers find easy and pleas­ant to nav­i­gate. This involves a clear, unclut­tered lay­out with straight­for­ward prompts guid­ing the user through the inter­ac­tion. Cus­tomers should be able to restart con­ver­sa­tions eas­i­ly, if they have to.

The chat­bot should pro­vide clear options for cus­tomers to be redi­rect­ed to rel­e­vant pages, infor­ma­tion, or to a human agent if their query goes beyond the chat­bot’s scope. These inte­gra­tions ensure that users don’t feel trapped with­in the chat­bot inter­ac­tion, but rather sup­port­ed and effi­cient­ly guid­ed towards resolution.

3. Consider your audience

When pro­gram­ming your chat­bot, it’s cru­cial to con­sid­er the demo­graph­ics, pref­er­ences, and expec­ta­tions of your tar­get audi­ence. The tone of your chat­bot should res­onate with the users it’s intend­ed to serve.

For a younger, more tech-savvy audi­ence, a casu­al tone, sprin­kled with appro­pri­ate humour and the use of GIFs, might be engag­ing and relat­able. How­ev­er, this approach may not suit a more for­mal or pro­fes­sion­al audi­ence, where a straight­for­ward, busi­ness-like tone would be more appropriate.

4. Be transparent

Trans­paren­cy is cru­cial when inte­grat­ing chat­bots into cus­tomer ser­vice. It’s impor­tant to inform cus­tomers from the out­set that they are inter­act­ing with an AI-pow­ered chat­bot. This hon­esty helps set real­is­tic expec­ta­tions about the type of assis­tance the chat­bot can provide.

It’s equal­ly vital to empow­er cus­tomers with the option to speak to a human agent at any point in their inter­ac­tion. Make it clear and easy for users to request a tran­si­tion from chat­bot to human ser­vice, ensur­ing they feel their needs are your pri­or­i­ty. This lev­el of trans­paren­cy and con­trol sig­nif­i­cant­ly enhances cus­tomer trust and sat­is­fac­tion with the service.

5. Teach your chatbot

To main­tain rel­e­vance and pro­vide val­ue, it’s essen­tial to con­tin­u­ous­ly edu­cate your chat­bot. A chat­bot’s knowl­edge base should evolve by incor­po­rat­ing new infor­ma­tion and learn­ing from inter­ac­tions. This con­tin­u­ous learn­ing process not only improves the chat­bot’s abil­i­ty to respond accu­rate­ly but also helps in refin­ing its under­stand­ing of cus­tomer queries over time.

Imple­ment feed­back loops and ana­lyt­ics to cap­ture insights from cus­tomer inter­ac­tions, using them to train your chat­bot in areas where it may have fal­tered. By reg­u­lar­ly updat­ing its knowl­edge base and learn­ing from real-world use, your chat­bot becomes increas­ing­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed, offer­ing more help­ful, pre­cise, and con­tex­tu­al­ly aware assistance.

6. Protect customer privacy

Cus­tomer pri­va­cy should be an utmost con­cern when using chat­bots. It’s imper­a­tive to design your chat­bot with robust secu­ri­ty mea­sures to safe­guard sen­si­tive cus­tomer data. Be trans­par­ent about data col­lec­tion prac­tices and obtain con­sent where nec­es­sary, adher­ing to data pro­tec­tion regulations.

Cus­tomers should be assured that their con­ver­sa­tions are con­fi­den­tial and that their per­son­al infor­ma­tion is han­dled with care. Reg­u­lar­ly review and update your pri­va­cy poli­cies to reflect the lat­est stan­dards and prac­tices, rein­forc­ing cus­tomer trust. By pri­ori­tis­ing pri­va­cy, you not only com­ply with legal require­ments but also fos­ter a secure envi­ron­ment that respects and pro­tects cus­tomer interests.

7. Monitor your chatbot

Effec­tive chat­bot man­age­ment involves dili­gent mon­i­tor­ing and analy­sis. Reg­u­lar­ly review inter­ac­tions between your chat­bot and cus­tomers to pin­point areas need­ing improve­ment. Inte­grate a robust feed­back mech­a­nism, allow­ing users to rate their expe­ri­ence, which pro­vides direct insights into the chat­bot’s per­for­mance from the cus­tomer’s perspective.

Addi­tion­al­ly, it’s cru­cial that you track key per­for­mance indi­ca­tors (KPIs) such as res­o­lu­tion rate, cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion scores, and response times. These met­rics are vital in assess­ing whether the chat­bot meets its objec­tives. By con­tin­u­ous­ly mon­i­tor­ing these aspects, you can refine your chat­bot’s func­tion­al­i­ty, ensur­ing that it con­sis­tent­ly evolves and aligns with cus­tomer expec­ta­tions and busi­ness goals.

Final thoughts

As we’ve explored, the key to max­imis­ing the poten­tial of chat­bots lies in thought­ful inte­gra­tion and con­tin­u­ous refine­ment. While busi­ness­es must ensure their effi­ca­cy, they should also strive for humanisation.

Chat­bots are a con­stant­ly evolv­ing part of cus­tomer ser­vice. So, we can antic­i­pate them to con­tin­u­al­ly improve as we move for­ward. This is an excit­ing time for online busi­ness­es, as they can expect to see bet­ter chat­bots and there­fore even greater cost effec­tive­ness and cus­tomer satisfaction.

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