customer support agent

Have you heard that 2017 is the Year of the Chatbot? Blogs and thought leaders are buzzing about the next big development in support. Microsoft declared “bots are the new apps” at the BUILD developers conference. Twitter unveiled new Welcome Messages and Quick Replies that can interact with customers automatically and direct their inquiries automatically. Computer programs are the new customer support agents, the news is everywhere.

These AI services are at the business-friendly extremes of cost and bandwidth, two significant improvements for your contact center. Companies in all industries are considering a move to revolutionize their customer interactions by botsourcing routine communication: updating a delivery status, placing simple orders, fielding basic information requests, etc.

It could be time for your company to implement bots for customer service. If you’re interested, we’ve got a chatbots breakdown to go through some of the finer details. There are definitely some tasks that bots can do just as well as humans, maybe even better or faster. For those items, it makes sense to utilize chatbots. For others, the high-touch approach is more appropriate. Customer support agents are crucial and AI is a distraction.

Will you use bots in 2017 or won’t you, that’s the question. Or is it?

The decision about using bots isn’t the end of the thought process, it’s the beginning. There’s another big question to ask once you’ve decided to save agent bandwidth by incorporating chatbots: what do you do with that extra agent bandwidth? That’s where bots will allow the best support teams to shine.

Think about booking a hotel room before the year 2000. If you were planning ahead, you had to get the phone number and call to make the reservation. Not a big deal, but it meant that a vast majority of the hotel’s incoming conversation was transactional.

In 2017, most people book rooms through websites or apps, but hotels still get the same volume of phone calls. It seems like every time I check in or out of a hotel in the last couple of years, an employee at the desk is on the phone with someone. The conversation has shifted away from bookings and toward more personal requests: asking about a late checkout, booking local activities, ordering breakfast in bed.

Regardless of how technology has improved and what your company decides about chatbots, there will always be customers to support and customer support agents eager to help. The bigger question isn’t about how you can use bots, it’s how you can evolve your customer service strategy to best support your customers. Maybe bots will help. Maybe they’ll create more hassle or frustration. Maybe bots can be used for some tasks but not for others. That’s all for you to determine.

If you find a way to use AI to meet customer needs faster and free up more time for your agents, great. But don’t just be satisfied with that result, use the extra time to do more for the customers. Chatbots can’t just be a way to answer requests quickly. The real benefit is that forward-thinking companies can utilize agents to respond to a wider range of new requests.

In short, the long-term effect of chatbots won’t be to replace customer support agents, it will be to handle the most basic tasks and leave those agents free to serve the customers in new ways. There will always be a place for person-to-person interaction, in fact, a huge majority of customers prefer that. But the tasks performed by those agents will adapt to customer needs.