Just a few years ago if you were to focus on improving customer service, one of your first moves would have been to take a hard look at your automated customer service tools. Your chatbot that served up several partially relevant links in response to a query before throwing its virtual hands in the air, or your automated voice support system that had customers screaming REP-RE-SEN-TA-TIVE within 60 seconds. How things have fortunately changed.
Today’s self-service customer care services are leaps and bounds ahead of those rage-inducing tools of yore, thanks to artificial intelligence. Virtual customer service assistants are changing the face of consumer-brand relations by removing the (human) face altogether – and it’s exactly what customers want.
The Road to Automated Assistants
The late ‘90s and early ‘00s ushered in the first digital revolution in customer service with automated voice systems, allowing customers to interact with a company’s customer support using a telephone keypad, speech recognition, or by banging the phone against the wall and swearing because the menu options were too limited and the speech recognition too shoddy. Following that were early chatbots, which attempted to retrieve requested information with keyword searches and were about as useful as a mid-’90s era web search. Perhaps unsurprisingly this digital revolution led to a renaissance in person to person customer service, which has its own struggles including wait times, slow service and limited knowledge.
The good news is that recent advances in AI have ushered in a more successful digital revolution, the age of the automated virtual customer assistant such as those offered by customer service leaders nanorep. Mature natural language processing enables these programs to actually understand what the customer is asking for and to reply with a natural conversational cadence, while modern machine learning algorithms allow them to learn from every conversation it has and use that knowledge going forward.
These advances couldn’t come at a better time, as the always-connected and easily-mobile nature of online businesses has brought about the age of the consumer, an age in which customers are demanding unprecedented speed and availability, personalization and ease of use from customer service.
Three big three
In terms of improving the customer experience, however, these are the big issues that today’s virtual assistants tackle.
Wasted time: Whether a customer is contacting customer service for a general inquiry, for help completing a purchase, or to resolve an issue, it is supremely annoying to be informed that all agents are busy, or that the wait time is X minutes or even hours. People don’t contact a company for help at 4:00 PM because they really want help at 5:00 PM. They want it now, even if now is in the middle of the night.
How a virtual assistant helps: A virtual assistant is infinitely scalable, able to assist as many customers at one time as it needs to. A virtual assistant is also always available. That means help begins immediately, no matter when that help is needed. Virtual assistants can also instantly access and parse through tremendous amounts of data to find relevant information or take action for a customer, exponentially faster than a human agent could locate and transmit answers or take action. According to a Forrester Research study, 73% of customers say the biggest thing a company can do to provide them with good customer service is value their time, and virtual assistants very much help a company do so.
A lack of personalization: If it feels like human customer service representatives are being picked on here, rest assured that subpar automated options stink up the customer service landscape as well. Whether it’s automated voice service systems with touchpad menus or speech recognition menus or rudimentary chatbots relying on keyword searches, the problem is how limited the knowledge of these systems are. The opportunities for personalized service are almost nil because customers can only receive information included in preprogrammed databases.
How a virtual assistant helps: Advanced natural language processing enables the automated virtual assistants to understand what the customer needs (or needs to know) instantly, because customers can present their needs in a natural conversational way and be understood. This means customers receive a personalized, accurate and quick response tailored to their specific needs. This can include everything from easy responses on order status to product recommendations, sizing information and details on special deals and sales.
Too much effort: Customers are already giving you their money, which means giving you their trust and, for repeat customers, their loyalty. They may also interact with your brand on social media, or recommend you to family, friends and followers. When you think about it, customers are putting in a lot of effort. They shouldn’t have to put in more to get customer service help, sitting on the phone, opening up their email or traversing your website to get to a contact form.
How a virtual assistant helps: Premier virtual assistants are where your customers already are and where they’re already interacting with your brand, including wildly popular messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Slack, which are now more popular than social media platforms. By easily integrating with the platforms your customers are already using, virtual assistants increase customer engagement by eliminating dreaded channel hopping and greatly reducing the effort customers have to expend to get in touch – the most important factor in customer loyalty, according to the Harvard Business Review.
Where should automated customer assistants take over?
The characteristics of virtual assistants discussed in the sections above make a virtual assistant a logical choice for quick and repetitive customer service tasks, such as looking up order details or providing information on warranties. The natural language abilities, breadth of knowledge as well as capacity for tireless support also make these assistants a great option for more in-depth and personalized assistance, such as helping with product research and providing product recommendations based on stated needs and desires. Furthermore, virtual assistants are ideal for providing resolutions to issues or problems, as a virtual assistant eliminates wait times for service, thereby helping to decrease the frustration a customer may be feeling. And perhaps it goes without saying, but a virtual assistant doesn’t have to worry about losing its cool when confronted with an angry customer.
A virtual assistant can also complete purchases, taking payment information and shipping addresses. Most customers are understandably more comfortable providing payment card information and addresses to a secure automated system than to a human employee.
Automating your connection with customers
On the surface, automation may seem like the last thing a company should use to improve a relationship with a customer, but in this age of the consumer when immediate, always-available and personalized customer service is an absolute must for everything from major enterprises to SMBs, the automation and AI that goes into virtual assistants is essential for improving customer satisfaction and, ultimately, customer retention.
Benjamin Stone is a Writer and Technology Enthusiast for Nanorep