To Chatbot or not to Chatbot? What Every Customer Support Manager Needs to Know

Deciding whether or not to use or deploy a chatbot for your brand requires understanding each of the drawbacks and benefits of this new technology. It can be a tough decision to make. There are always new and shiny trends popping up every year in the customer service industry. You might be getting inundated with sales emails from companies promising to reduce your cost of service, increase your customer loyalty and differentiate your customer’s experience.

But implementing a new tech takes time and money. Plus, if you work in a bigger, fully established firm, you might need to go through several rounds of RFPs and approvals before you can actually get started. It’s important to make the right decision when you’re changing up your customer experience strategy – even if you’re looking at the trendiest new technology.

This article will help customer support managers identify whether launching a chatbot is right for them. We’ll look at several factors you should include in your consideration, such as:

– How volume affects chatbot effectiveness
– Why the type of questions from customers matter
– When scale makes chatbots worth looking into

High Volume or High Touch

If you’re a bigger company, you’ve either built a business around servicing either many mice or just a few elephants. “Mice” are small customers who might be paying you just a few dollars a month or only purchasing small items occasionally. In order to build a business around mice, you need a lot of them.

“Elephants” are big enterprise deals. They move slowly and carry a lot of weight. If you’re building a business selling to elephants, you only need a few of them and you need to take care of them.

chatbotDeciding whether your customer base, and their questions, are comprised of many mice that require very little attention or a few big elephants that require a more high-touch approach is the first step in deciding if a chatbot might be right for you.

Chatbots can process a lot of transactions very quickly, but they don’t do well with context. For example, if you’ve set up an enterprise logistics account for a big vendor, there are a lot of moving pieces. An account manager understands why everything is set up the way it is. A chatbot will not.

But if customers are just looking for information about a product or service a chatbot can easily retrieve it for them.  For example, a chatbot can resolve simple questions about shipping costs or delivery date estimates. Any questions that can be pre-determined are perfectly answered by chatbots.

Customers looking for instant gratification and easy answers are best served by a chatbot. If a chatbot can’t easily surface the right information, it can successfully hand it over to a human agent (with the context included). That way, customers don’t have to repeat themselves, and they don’t have to wait any longer for help.

Transactions or How-Tos

What types of questions does your customer service team handle most often? If they can be easily addressed with a link to a knowledge base article or a search in your database, those questions are prime for chatbots to answer.

Chatbots start to fail when decision trees form and there is uncertainty. They can’t do well when customers ask questions that need nuanced answers. If an answer could be A or B, a human is better equipped to help the customer make a good decision. This complexity only increases the further away from the question you get.

When deciding whether your strategy should include chatbots, consider your First Contact Resolution rate. Often these questions could have been resolved by a chatbot. If, however, your average touches per conversation rate is very high, it’s unlikely that your customers will be able to get what they need from a chatbot. Edge-cases and troubleshooting are best left to humans who can hold more than one logic pathway in their brain.

Because all companies will see a mix of transactional questions and edge-cases coming in, it’s smart to opt for a hybrid use case. Chatbots can act as the first level of support, and then hand over more complicated problems to their human counterparts.

Quantity or Quality

If we had unlimited time and money and we could help every customer exactly how they wanted to be helped, what would that look like? Would you have a phone line for each customer so they can call in whenever they want? Or would they be able to help themselves through self-service with near instantaneous responses when they did need support?

While it might be nice to dream about, most businesses don’t have unlimited amounts of money to spend building out one-to-one support for every customer. This is especially true if you’re in a big business with small cost margins (the amount of profit you make from one sale). Once everyone else gets paid (the cost of the product, the cost of acquiring the customer, etc), there’s very little money left over to service the customer. So dedicating a full-time agent to care for them just isn’t going to happen.  

Instead, we need to find ways to lower the cost of service so we can still provide quality service when needed – but operate leanly.

Chatbots, when you have a lot of questions from customers, are very cost effective in the long run. While the initial cost investment to set them up might be high, the cost per contact is actually very low.

However, customers often perceive chat bots to be a cost-saving strategy by organizations. And a recent study by PWC  shows “59% of customers globally (and 64% in the U.S.) feel brands are so myopic about automation and trendy design, they’ve “lost touch” with the human element of creating a great customer experience.” It’s important to consider how you want your customer support strategy to be received. Are you differentiating yourself from competitors based on the quality of support?  Maybe leading with an automated chatbot is a bad idea.

Balancing cost-effective support with quality support interactions is definitely another tradeoff to consider when investigating if chatbots are right for your company.

Choosing Where to Deploy Chatbots

High Volume? Simple Questions? Cost-Conscious? Chat bots might be a good option for your company. However, even if you do choose to employ chat bots, it’s still important to be careful when and where you deploy them.

Chatbots need to be used with discretion. If you force every customer to talk to a chatbot before getting help, you’ll end up annoying a large number of customers who have to navigate through a messaging flow before contacting a human. If customers can’t get to a human when they need to, they will become frustrated. In this case, chatbots will create more problems than they’re worth.

Instead, use chatbots strategically, and only when you’re sure they will be a fast and easy way for customers to get help. When customers need to be connected to a human, get out of their way and skip the chatbot all together!

To Chatbot or not to Chatbot?

It’s really dependant on you and your customers. If your business answers a lot of similar questions and cost is a top concern, chatbots provide a great option for helping customers efficiently. If your customer service needs are more complex, chatbots might end up creating more frustration than satisfaction. In this case, chatbots should only be used to deal with any initial queries (such as verifying account ownership) and the complex questions should be handed over to a human. That way, customers are happy, and the chatbots can still help agents do their job better and faster.

Ultimately, you have to make the decision based on what’s best for your company, not what the latest, greatest trend is saying. While new technologies can be helpful, we need to be skeptical about those that claim to solve all of our problems. It’s only by thinking critically and weighing the costs and benefits can we make the right strategic decisions for our customers.