Welcome to 2020. It's time to forecast what are the trends around live chat (both agents and chatbots considered) this year.
I believe this year we finally achieve two notable milestones. Firstly, live chat ceases to exist as a something separate from the grander schema of things taking its rightful place as the customer service channel. Secondly, and related to the first one, B2B companies finally embrace live chat as an opportunity to provide quick and excellent service meeting customer expectations. As the third trend, there will be chaos as users and buyers are learning what each player's role in the equation that is a successful live chat operation is. All of these trends pretty much build on the momentum started last year, this time it's just more significant change.
If you haven't followed this series so far, see earlier entries here (all the way to 2017) for context. If you have, let's get going. Grab your seat because we are going to start with the chaos.
Lines get (even more) blurry.
Last year it started to look pretty clear that customers don't care if their questions are answered, and problems are solved by a human or a chatbot. What they care about is that they are served on time (meaning instantly) at a time convenient for them (read: now).
As we don't care are we getting assistance from a man or a machine, we don't care what that box on the lower right corner of the website is called.
It's already quite common to hear terms live chat (traditionally human-to-human support, can be used to encompass human + AI support), a chatbot (AI helping you), a chat robot (same as previous), a chatbox (that box where the conversation takes place on a website), a chat widget (same as previous), and few others used interchangeably. Throw in a couple of ways to spell these, various language versions (like our local version "chattibotti"), terms invented by buyers, and voila, we are looking at potential mix-ups and mishaps, especially during the buying scenarios.
Of course, this is more problem to vendors of services above. We, as an industry, need to get our terminology straight and buyers educated. It's not like an average user seeking assistance would have any need to know how each piece of a puzzle is called. Again, they just want their problems solved!
However, the terminology thing is just the tip of the iceberg. As more and more new services and fresh players enter the fray, it's going to get even more complicated as services combining chatbots and agents emerge. Soon it's going to be very difficult to tell if you are assisted by a chatbot, an agent supported by a chatbot (or similar solution), or agent au naturel. No, wait. We do have one way to know. Companies should tell whether we are speaking with a man or a machine!
Everything is integrated
In terms of live chat, we are at the end of the era. Until now, it was not too common to find that live chat was an operation somewhat separated form other customer service channels. This separation could have meant for example that the live chat system was not connected to rest of the customer relationship management and/or contact centre, or managing it was even outsourced to a company without access to any of relevant sources of information.
The growing importance of chat as a service channel, utilisation of data and AI, increased expectations from customers will force companies to bring chat operations in-house and make sure that data flows from system to system and is appropriately stored for further use.
This change started with enterprises but is sure to extend to the SME sector as well. The companies offering comprehensive CRM, customer service software, and/or contact centres systems (think Salesforce, Genesys, Zendesk, Freshdesk…) are seeing this trend and capitalising on it as they woo their customers to use their platforms for all things communication. Accelerating this trend are chatbots as they can easily 4-5x, in some cases even 10x, the number of chat interactions, making live chat a priority channel that need to be more and more connected to CRMs and other back-office systems.
Now, I'm not saying that live chat and chat outsourcing companies would die away in 2020. Not at all. But I do believe that there is going to be increasing pressure for them to reinvent themselves to stay relevant and thrive. Companies offering standalone live chat software need to integrate (first steps of this were highlighted among 2019 trends) to other systems like CRMs and contact centres and build new and innovative ways to add value. As for the outsourcing companies… I would be somewhat concerned as companies seek to bring chat in-house and chatbots are chipping away their market share. That being said, I'm sure best of them will find a new lucrative business model. It will be exciting to see what kind of form all these companies are taking in the coming years!
B2B catches up
Think about it. You communicate with your family on WhatsApp, message your friends on Messenger (yeah, I'm that old), you chat on Tinder with your next date, you reach out to a colleague using Slack, and when you have a problem with a software/service/product you cha… no, wait, you email the vendor! Well, now all the signs are there that the scenario above is finally about to change.
In 2020, B2B companies are going to embrace live chat and chatbots.
Like the others, this trend is also continuing on the same trajectory as chatbots making live chat more accessible to companies last year. For context, check the fourth paragraph of this blog. The expectations referred there (instantly and now) set our expectations as B2B buyers and service/product users and not only in as consumers. We demand the same level service, no matter what our role is. So in 2020, the brainfart that in B2B context no speedy service is required is put to the ground for good.
Enter chatbots. As noted in 2019, the use of AI is lowering the barrier for B2B companies to start utilising live chat. Chatbots remove "traditional" excuses like the cost of resourcing, enabling B2B companies to start using live chat. B2B companies start looking at chatbots so they can bring live chat in-house as stated above and start reaping all the benefits of the channel.
It's not like B2B would not have before been using live chat. It certainly has been used but not to its full potential. Companies have been using live chat as a means to collect leads (with salespeople and chatbots) plus live chat (primarily through Skype, Teams or Slack) has been thriving in different kind of help desks and other internal use cases. All this has been just paving the road for more encompassing use of live chat. I'm now talking about user support, technical support, and other forms of specialised customer support and sales channel that does more than just collects leads. Of course, forerunners are here already (I'm looking at you startups).
So what's driving the change then? All the above. Customers demand fast and easily accessible support. Live chat is the best way to provide it, and at the same time, new technology (mainly AI) is enabling the use of chat support more effectively than before.
So it looks like 2020 is bringing quite a few changes with it and some chaos to spice things up. Let's go!
When you chat with customer service, do you know if it's a human or a chatbot? Do you even care? How about the rest of the trends, how right or wrong am I?