The “consumerisation” of markets, the strong, steady growth of e-commerce and the shift to all-things digital in the customer experience, has quite naturally led to an explosion in the number of interactions between brands and consumers.
By Roland Koltchakian, customer experience specialist at Oracle
The question most businesses are asking themselves in response to this is: “How do I address these phenomena without making my brand less attractive or compromising my customer experience?”
Brands need to manage an enormous number of interactions today, and there is simply no way to assign a person to each of these. That is why alternative technologies that promote greater levels of self-service have grown in popularity in recent years with both brands and customers. These relieve organizations from having to manage more straightforward interactions while giving customers greater autonomy to shop how they want to.
Take chatbots, for example. While in their early stages, these have already begun to enhance the customer experience by providing a middle-ground between total self-service and the ability to speak with a brand. These virtual assistants can handle simple, recurring requests at a very low cost. They are also becoming more sophisticated in the types of interactions they can handle. Evernote CEO Phil Libin has gone as far as to say that “Within a few years, bots will be the fabric of everything”.
Of course, we need to be realistic and avoid the trap of thinking chatbots will be a completely autonomous form of intelligence. They must still be designed and guided by humans, and will never replace people completely in customer service. Their purpose is to make the experience faster and more efficient and allow brands to serve more customers to a high standard.
What is the best practice for chatbots? Below are a few important points to keep in mind:
* Chatbots will communicate with real people, not other bots. They need to understand requests in natural language and respond in kind, and brands must ensure the user experience and graphical interface are designed with this in mind.
* Personality goes a long way. Customers may be aware they are speaking with a robot but will still appreciate any efforts made to humanize the dialogue. It’s not against the rules to give your chatbots a sense of humour.
* Remember that bots have limits. More complicated requests and discussions will need to be escalated to a real human, and this transition needs to be seamless. Brands need to anticipate all types of scenarios where this might happen and build a suitable escalation process into their chatbot strategy.
* Customers want accurate answers fast. Chatbots must therefore have access to data and processes from across the business to source relevant information. This includes access to a brand’s CRM architecture, for instance.

The customer experience has reached a crossroads
The demands on brands have never been greater or more complex. Their relationship with customers is in a state of constant flux as digital technologies give people even more power to interact with companies on their own terms.
In response, the next few years will see continued developments in the field of chatbots and relational intelligence. Does this mean these technologies will become completely autonomous and take all the complexity and risk out of customer relations? The answer is, unsurprisingly, no. As mentioned these tools will still be based on human logic and each brand’s particular needs and there will always be limits to what they can do.
However, as companies eye growth and the ability to better serve more customers, chatbots and AI-based technologies will play a major role in helping them establish a successful ubiquitous brand.