Can Customer Service Bots Ever Be Empathetic Enough?

21 Dec
December 21, 2016

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be one of the keynotes at the iMedia Brand Summit where I talked about the social media journey my company has been on, and in particular the part customer service plays.

I touched on a few forward thinking points at the end, one of them being the possible role of bots. I got a lot of questions afterwards about how and where it can be applicable for different types of business. With the recent announcement of Twitter’s customer service tools, as well as Facebook’s earlier announcements of messenger bots, there has been a tremendous rush towards trying to apply them.

I think the opportunity for messenger bots is huge. I’m a firm believer in customer service at the core of any social media and content strategy. It must be easy for a customer to do business with you and find the answers they need quickly. Bots can fulfil this need – to a degree.

The real litmus test though (and let’s face it, the business case for investment) will come down to what your social interactions are like as a whole.

WHAT DO YOUR SOCIAL CUSTOMER SERVICE INTERACTIONS LOOK LIKE?

If you’re tagging your social interactions correctly (that is to say aligned to other business functions), then you should have a solid foundation of what your customer queries are about. From here, there are two things to consider when analysing them.

Firstly, what are they actually relating to? If you map them to your customer’s lifecycle, how many could you consider to be general questions (possibly pre-sales or account maintenance), vs the amount of customer service queries and more specifically, complaints? Bots will excel in providing responses to questions that are frequent and general. As the conversations become more personal, will they be the right thing to be putting between you and the customer?

Secondly, how personal is the customer service and complaints? I use the word personal as opposed to specific because there is a lot of variance between the two. A broken dishwasher is a very different level of personal to something like an insurance claim. When interactions get incredibly personal, they can be heavy on the emotion and detail, requiring a level of emotional intelligence and empathy that simply can’t be provided by a bot.

If I look at my previous area of financial services, social interactions were largely straightforward – it was all about stock prices and account management. I see tremendous opportunity in things like share trading, where a bot can fulfil (once your ID has been authenticated) a number of functions, like live quotes, and simple buy or sell orders. These functions are very specific in nature, and I think that the first online broker to crack this will have a distinct advantage.

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEED FOR A HUMAN

So with that considered, would a bot help or hinder the discussion around a claims complaint or anything involving an impact to finances or lifestyle, for instance? Think about how frustrating it can be to work your way through the automated phone message to find someone to speak to.

Here in Australia, 46% of us are more likely to go online to complain rather than praise*, and I believe this to actually be much higher for regulated, service-based industries like financial services. Social is an escalation point, where brand and reputation management is on public display, so it’s important to get it right.

While messenger bots will excel at the beginning of the customer journey, if you interactions lean heavily on complaints and are very personal in nature, there is a point where this interaction needs to be handed over to a human.

*Lithium Technologies 
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