There’s much industry buzz about chatbots opening the door to a new era of service, with customers spending less time waiting on hold and answers generated automatically while they multitask. Others fear this is a path to mass unemployment, as machines take over functions once performed by people.
It’s true that forecasts suggest chatbots could help cut business expenses by as much as $8 billion in less than five years. But the fact of the matter is that these debates ignore the most important questions – like whether chatbots are providing the type of service that your customers want. And, just as importantly, how do you know?
The truth is you’ll never know – unless you ask them.
Intuit receives thousands of customer inquiries a day from small business owners and operators, bookkeepers and accountants. Some of them need help executing a task in our software, like customising an invoice or adding a new employee to payroll. Others just want us to send across a list of instructions.
Just as they vary wildly in the level of support they need to get things done, they also differ greatly in how they want to reach us. Today they can do so via phone, online chat, email, social or in our live communities. But it wasn’t always this way.
Never make assumptions
We assumed the last thing customers would want was to waste precious time hanging on the line waiting for someone to answer their query. It turns out we were half right.
When we went out and spoke to our customers in person we found that they wanted choices – in one focus group session with a customer, the CEO wanted to call and speak with someone when he had an issue, while younger team members would jump online looking for self-help options (they would just “Google it”).
What I took from that session is that everyone learns differently and that we prefer to communicate in different ways. It also confirmed that talking to your customers is the only way to find out what they want from your business.
Data that you collect via customer surveys may provide one point of view, however, sometimes you need to be prepared to run small tests to validate what your customers need and how you will actually deliver what they need. Before we launched this new channel, we did a small test where we made a phone number available to our customers for a few weeks to learn about their questions, compare the results against existing channels and help us understand the potential demand when we were ready to launch. This helped us to understand how many people we would need and what we would need to train them on initially to ensure that the team was ready for the big launch!
Armed with this knowledge from our customers and our small experiment we went back to the future and added phone support. Now customers can speak to a service representative in less than three minutes. At the same time, we launched a series of two-minute self-help videos for those who prefer to go it alone.
With this new service model in place, we’re able to gather data and do analytics on the queries that are coming in. What are the main drivers of queries? Which channels perform best? How long is it taking to resolve problems? This type of data is used to optimise customer support. It’s also a very effective way to make the case for product and service updates..
Here are a few tips to make sure you’re delivering the service your customers want and expect:
- Talk to your customers – How do they want to communicate with you? Get insights to validate your anecdotes.
- Keep track of your customer interactions – Has your customer already contacted you twice via your online platform before they call in? Customer relationship management software will help.
- Solve problems and reduce how often they arise – If you’re getting a slew of calls about a particular issue, use this valuable input to make the case for change, whether it’s in product design or service supply.
- Create a process for following up on customer service inquiries – After three or six months, how many customers are satisfied with your service? How many are still with your business? The impact of your support initiatives on customer retention is key to knowing what’s working and making the case for ongoing investment. By using a post interaction survey you can assess the net promoter score to ask your customers if they would recommend this service to a friend or family member. This is a great way of getting a real-time pulse check on the quality of service you are delivering to your customers.
Technology is enabling us to do amazing things, like providing round-the-clock support via automated chatbots. While I’m all for catering to the on-demand economy, let’s not assume that what’s new is always best as its often a combination of innovative technology solutions and delivering great customer service. Get in front of your customers and ask them what works for them. You might be surprised by what they tell you, but your business will definitely be better for it.