In 2017, I started writing a blog series about principles of a successful live chat operation (see earlier entries here). I still have few blogs to go, but as the year has (again) changed, I believe it’s time for a small update for a year already well on its way.
As said, consider this blog as an update for 2017 and 2018 editions. The same principles declared in 2017 (Direction, Quality, and Quantity) still stand. Also, so do impact and changes chatbots brought in to the mix in 2018. So how about 2019? I give you three things once more to consider. These 3 pointers are about changes happening in the background, so I’m not speaking specifically about any of those three principles but all of them simultaneously. (Maybe I should be talking of trends this time?) So if you are unfamiliar with them, go and read those blogs.
This year, keep your eyes open for chatbots leading the charge when companies implement and scale live chat operations, in addition to chatbot+human cooperation establishing itself as the standard for live chat customer service.
Let’s dive in.
We have a new standard for live chat customer service
In 2019, your customers expect service that is available for them without waiting and whenever they want it (yes, meaning around the clock). They also demand the service in a channel that they have grown accustomed to in their communication between friends and family (instant messaging and live chat). If your business can’t meet these growing expectations, your customers will find someone who will.
Meeting customers’ requirements do not mean that utilising chatbots in your customer service would be mandatory. These expectations can be met using other means (hiring more agents, working day and night shifts, and/or by outsourcing, to mention the most common options) but as chatbots also have additional benefits than just helping to meet said expectations, I believe that combination of AI and human experts is the new black for the (live chat) customer service.
Chatbots will handle simple enquiries, that is to say, all the situations where good customer experience is about correct and quick answers while human agents will handle the stuff requiring life experience and other abilities, such as sales skills.
For years now, the forerunner companies have organised their customer service workload between humans and chatbots as explained above. Now in 2019, it will become the expected standard as customers are getting used to being helped instantly by AI and become less and less tolerant for waiting. No longer are customers expecting service from human agents in the first place and some consumers even prefer service from bots over humans (my little research last November and this January already touched upon this change). It does not matter for customers if digital or human agents serve them, as long the service is hassle-free and leads to solving the problem.
Which brings us to the second and third trends this year.
Live chat becomes AI first operation...
Chatbots started to boom in 2016. Since then the majority of customer service chatbots have been implemented among existing live chat operations (note that chatbots focusing on other than customer service use cases may be a completely different thing). Most often the company has had an existing live chat channel, and they have realised that chatbots can improve that channel (usually either efficiency, customer experience or both). So their chatbot implementation could be described as a sort of extension (but a valuable one) to the existing customer service live chat. In these cases, a chatbot is an answer to the question ”How can we do better”.
However, in 2019 and beyond, we will see a growing number of companies redesigning their whole live chat (or even customer service) operation around AI and its capability to manage interactions at scale. Brands that have not been able to provide proactive chat support due to resourcing issues can now do so with considerably more compact live chat teams and streamlined operations. The use of AI is making live chat as a support channel more cost-effective and tempting for smaller organisations and business units.
Today, chatbots are the answer to the question ”How can we be better”.
As a side note, one of the main reasons for companies to select or upgrade their live chat software is vendor's capability to support chatbots (trust me, there are severe differences on what is possible with each live chat software when it comes to chatbots). This trend will grow stronger and will lead to new upstarts eating market under legacy players with limited technical capabilities for supporting AI. Brands want to make sure that when a conversation is escalated from a chatbot to a human, it continues seamlessly: the agent can see the past conversation, the customer knows with whom they are discussing with, and so on. These features help to make the service, again, hassle-free.
… no matter if you are just getting started or scaling up
No longer are chatbots something for innovation labs to play around with. Chatbots are a part of everyday operations and are handled as such even by large enterprises. Customer service or other operational teams make decisions regarding how and when (note: not if) a chatbot is introduced.
Where the AI first approach is unmistakably visible are the organisations kicking off their live chat operations. When implementing a "traditional" live chat, organisations have many questions they would like to know answers beforehand. With only questimations to go with, it is hard to estimate how the get best started.
Nowadays, chatbots can help companies to get started with live chat as modern chatbot solutions allow testing the waters with AI before throwing humans into the fray.
If you go in chatbot first, remember to make sure that teaching answers to the new questions popping up is fast and easy. By implementing a chatbot, companies can learn what customers want to discuss about in live chat, how many chat conversations will the company usually receive, when are the peak hours, and so the list goes on. After chatbot has collected data for the customer service team, it's much easier to deploy human resources effectively (consider the difference between knowing and guessing the appropriate amount of agents that should be available, and with what knowledge and skill sets).
The organisations with more established live chat operations are first focusing on finetuning the cooperation (including the tech side of things) and roles between human and digital agents so that the service solves customers enquiries quickly. Then, with the working recipe, their live chat operations are scaled to new use cases and business units. Eventually, the live chat is becoming the first contact point for the brand and always open communication channel between the brand and its customers.
To summarise 2019: The most significant changes are happening behind the curtains (how companies organise their live chat operations, and how businesses buy and implement services such as live chat and chatbots) but all of them are made to meet customers' increased expectations.
Your turn. Do you agree or disagree?