As eCommerce develops into a global phenomenon, it’s become increasingly apparent that customers require near-constant, if not round-the-clock, 24-hour access to support. In our ever-expanding digital economy, real-time solutions are key.
Customers have come to expect instant or as near to instant gratification as mechanically possible. On that note, chatbots could be an effective solution for a variety of eCommerce merchants.
Should financial institutions encourage their clients to take chatbots seriously? Is the proposed value really worth the expense? The answer to both questions resides in the type of business, its size, and its ability to meet and exceed demand.
A chatbot is an automated, interactive script that is designed to answer and respond to customer queries from among a set series of questions and responses. The program utilizes an AI-driven “yes/no” decisioning, which implies complex queries and problems must be redirected to a messaging service for fulfillment.
Chatbots provide an immediate touch-point between customers and the merchant’s service channels. They can also demonstrate a merchant’s willingness to remain available for their customers at all times.
Chatbots enable merchants to provide customers with a means to contact them, even during off-hours, saving them time and money in the process. In fact, the program is so effective that up to 85% of retailers are already using some form of this technology.
Regarding chatbot functionality, one must first designate its intended purpose. There are a few variations of this software to choose from. Each performs a different function, although the basic tenets of the platform remain fairly ubiquitous through each.
For instance, chatbots can be fully automated, or they can function as a tool for live agents. Straightforward automated systems are often rules-based, while more advanced systems leverage artificial intelligence to more complex user queries.
These variations include:
Chatbots that run on AI are able to recognize sentence structure, digest and respond to open-ended questions, and interpret the user’s language. They are able to compare incoming data with historical data to answer basic questions. Additionally, AI chatbots are able to learn from each encounter, which improves their performance over time.
So-called “live” chatbots are intended to run as an extension of a retailer’s customer support stream. They can reroute queries to appropriate channels and provide agents with pertinent customer details.
Rules-based chatbot apps are pre-programmed with “yes-or-no” question options. The algorithm then decides the bot’s response to each query based on that script. These chatbots are the least costly to implement and require the least amount of integration. However, they are very inhuman in feeling, which can frustrate customers with genuine issues.
Merchant Benefits of Chatbots
Chatbots are popular with merchants because they provide a plethora of benefits with limited overhead costs. These include:
Chatbots can deliver a simple greeting, a request for clarification, or an estimate of the expected wait time for speaking with a live agent. While this might not immediately solve the customer’s problem, it does provide a quick response to the query.
Many customer issues don’t actually require human interaction to resolve if the right automation is in place. Aside from this, the inclusion of systems that pre-sort or pre-resolve situations before agent intervention can be invaluable to a support team.
Chatbots can answer and respond to customer queries 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. All this can be done without PTO or extended office hours.
If customer issues can be resolved swiftly, without long waits for response and resolution, this allows those customers to get back to shopping. Naturally, this can have a positive impact on sales revenue.
The information gleaned from every automated conversation can be used to streamline services, improve products, and perfect the buyer’s journey.
Potential Downsides of Chatbots
Overreliance on any one system is never an advisable course of action, especially with regard to artificial intelligence. Automation is a useful tool, but it should never be the only tool in any company’s arsenal.
To illustrate this point, here are a few of the potential downsides of chatbot technology that merchants should be aware of:
Imperfect Voice Recognition
While voice recognition technology is fairly widespread nowadays, it still lacks the ability to differentiate between complex sounds and phrases. Variations in accent, voice volume, tone, and vocabulary will still present challenges.
Currently, technology has limitations that only time and development can solve. The “inhuman touch” referenced above, for example, is one area that merchants must be aware of before integrating this technology.
Bots can’t intuit falsehoods. This becomes a relevant issue if a client is experiencing a high number of disputes and fraud. Factual gray areas like friendly fraud, for example, will completely sail under this tech’s radar.
A frequent customer complaint with regard to this software is that it provides a sterile, unoriginal customer service framework that is off-putting, at best.
Human Oversight is Necessary
It’s important to inform clients that this software can drastically improve the speed and efficacy of online problem-solving. But, one must also drive home that it isn’t intended to replace the need for human agents to respond to, review, and make decisions regarding incoming complaints and concerns.
For best effect, a dual approach is necessary. Advisable practices include:
Intelligent security practices should address standard procedures for authorizing users, adding or amending data, and responding to emergency situations.
All communications should feature end-to-end encryption so that data is exposed only to the sender and the receiver.
Strong encryption aside, user credentials and other sensitive data should never be transferred through virtual chat alone. Encourage clients to set up secondary verification.
Proper training for all individuals that receive and process incoming data is mandatory for every business.
Are Chatbots Recommendable?
Chatbots are valuable tools that can assist merchants and retailers in achieving top-rated customer service, but with one caveat: human oversight is an essential element.
There may come a day when an AI bot can answer and resolve complex issues on its own. For now, though, human interaction is far more important. Automation is good, but only if deployed effectively. That’s true for chatbots, as well as for dispute management.