(Shorter version published on The Drum, April 2021)
A loyal customer is a happy one. Not only do they spend more, they are also cheaper to attract – it costs five times more to attract a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. And then there’s the reputational cost of losing customers – people are more likely to share bad customer care experiences than good ones. What are you more likely to tell people about: the customer care experience where everything went smoothly? Or the infuriating time you were kept on hold for hours, only to be cut off?
To keep customers coming back for more, great customer care is a must. Conversational UI using a chatbot in messenger and business messaging tools can streamline the experience, making it easier and more cost effective for the business, while also frictionless and seamless for the customer. And crucially, there’s no keeping anyone on hold. Ever.
Conversational UI is a way of communicating that replicates human conversation. It uses artificial intelligence-powered tools like chatbots and voice assistants to process language in a natural way to make it seem to the customer like they are conversing with a human. This has enormous potential in customer care settings, where customers want quick – and often templated – answers.
Chatbots are hugely useful in conversational UI, as they are faster and more efficient than live chat operators. And customers love them. One study showed that quick access to information at any time of the day or night far outweighs any friction customers may experience when dealing with a chatbot. No wonder they are on the rise – according to another study, 95 per cent of customer interactions will be powered by chatbots by 2025. So it makes sense to get in on the ground floor.
Why the fuss? Because AI-powered chatbots have evolved significantly in recent years. While once they were simple, text-based chat windows, now they are fully-fledged, versatile virtual personal assistants, able to help with everything from changing passwords to fixing a leak in your holiday let. Not only can they now read into the context of a conversation in order to give an appropriate answer, they can be custom-fitted to your brand’s tone of voice, so a chatbot from a skateboard brand will sound very different to that from a pension fund. (Tip: Don’t mix up the two.) The trick is to meet your customers’ needs quickly and efficiently, and to speak their language while you are doing so.
They’re interactive, too. So not only will customers love getting information from them, they might even stick around for a chat and a laugh. The best customer support chatbots no longer sound like robots, but could in fact be mistaken for human customer service agents, ones that reflect customers’ priorities and outlooks. Conversation with them should feel as natural and free-flowing as chatting to a friend.
So how can you best use conversational UI tools like chatbots?
As the name suggests, conversational chatbots can imitate human conversation in a natural, free-flowing manner. What’s more, the use of value-adds such as emojis, funny clips, language preferences, etc. works wonders in personalising the customer-company support interactions. Chatbots that can catch typos, understand the jargon, and read between the lines are the ones that garner every customer’s imagination and unconditional support. Otherwise you may as well be talking to a toaster.
Looking for guidance? HelloFresh’s chatbot in messenger is the stuff of legend. The bot is easy to use and offers helpful information in a friendly and warm manner. But that’s not all. It also comes with in-built interactive ‘food-themed’ quizzes to engage and entertain the users in equal measure. The result? HelloFresh enjoyed a 47 per cent increase in incoming messages and a staggering reduction of response time rates by 76 per cent. Fresh indeed.
Just as yoga is a game of inches, customer care is a game of seconds – 40 seconds, to be exact. That’s how long you have to respond before your customers will give up and go elsewhere. This isn’t just about customer convenience: during a global pandemic, offering help within seconds can literally be a matter of life and death.
Take the WHO’s chatbot on Viber, which offers free health information on COVID-19 to millions of people around the globe in multiple languages. With the latest news on Coronavirus and information on symptoms, tests and what to do if you think you have the virus all at your fingertips, passing on information quickly is literally saving lives.
Seamlessly connecting with customers is a great start, but to really thrive you need to stand out from the competition. American Eagle Outfitter’s chatbot uses convenience as a prime differentiator to maximum effect, using humour and fun to promote products and engage customers in a sustainable manner. Its tongue-in-cheek approach makes excellent use of memes, GIFs, images, you name it, taking the conversation to the next level. And based on the audience’s interest and user responses, the conversational bot offers practical advice and tips.
Helpful, engaging, entertaining… it’s everything a chatbot should be. And it’s pretty much guaranteed to have customers coming back for more.
Today’s customer is always online, and they expect brands to be available to them 24/7. You can’t only offer support during business hours – people work shifts and odd hours (especially since the boom in flexible working brought on by the pandemic), while some customers might be in a different time zone. Ignoring their needs shows you don’t value them, or at the very least haven’t thought of them. The result? They will just turn to a brand that will serve them out of hours.
You need to provide high-quality customer support at all times, be it 5 am or 5 pm. Because the internet never sleeps.
A word of warning. As smart as chatbots are, they can’t completely replace customer care agents – and nor should they. The top customer support chatbots can pick up on the tone and type of query a customer is making and hand over to a human agent who is better suited to handling it. If a customer is infuriated at having been ignored, they are unlikely to be impressed by your chatbot, no matter how witty their use of emojis. Having human agents oversee chatbots and being on hand to de-escalate tensions when needed will prove invaluable, and prevent angry customers doing your brand irreparable reputational damage. Because the last thing you need is an angry customer social media blast that goes viral.
Chatbots are best used to handle the standard customer inquiries – like opening hours or simple product FAQs – that make up the bulk of most business’ user dealings. They are another tool that, if used wisely, will help create a delightful and seamless experience that will have customers coming back again and again, to browse, buy, or even just to catch feels.