As a citizen, it’s hard not to notice how government customer service has improved in strides over the last several years. From the speedy processing of a driver’s licence renewal to a callback service so you don’t have to wait in lengthy queues at tax time. But there’s more to come, and the private sector is a great crystal ball.
The most notable trend sweeping the customer service world is bots – and it’s important to differentiate between customer-facing bots and “behind the scenes” bots.
Let’s start with the customer-facing variety, known as chatbots or virtual agents. The flurry around bots as a way of dealing with consumer inquiries has reached fever pitch – one by one, companies are launching bots to provide instant answers to customer questions, driven by both consumer demand and the incredible cost savings relative to human contact centre staff. Bots often start basic and rules-based – “baby bots” if you like – and are really just an elegant version of FAQ. At the next level, there’s the bot that uses natural language processing to determine the intent of the user’s question (e.g. “I left my iPhone on board” is interpreted as the customer needs to contact lost property.) Bot interactions start to get more complex and mimic human conversations, with the bot able to offer helpful, proactive suggestions. Then when the bot really comes of age, it’s driven by deep learning, teaching itself and evolving to be better with limited human curation, and it’s this type of bot that has Artificial Intelligence (AI). Contrary to market hype, AI bots are still in their infancy, but are undeniably the future. As one of Australia’s most prominent venture capitalists said, AI is like oxygen and if your business doesn’t imbibe it, it won’t survive. Accenture is vocally pursuing an AI-first strategy as are many other private sector blue-chips.
Now let’s look at “behind the scenes” bots, otherwise known as RPA, or robotic process automation. These bots don’t speak to customers, rather they simplify, accelerate and automate processes to ultimately improve the customer – and agent – experience. They can have a physical workstation, just like a human customer service agent – and all you will see is a desktop with the mouse moving madly on the screen completing various tasks at lightning speed. Or they can work “invisibly” in the server room! Examples of RPA in contact centres include: a robot enters customer details in multiple systems eliminating data re-entry work for the agent; an application is processed which triggers the robot to do things like send the customer a confirmation, configure the customer’s profile in an email marketing system, send an alert to relevant stakeholders, create a report etc. Or the robot can be proactive – sending friendly reminders of payment or renewal deadlines, and even helping the customer through to completion of these tasks.
I see a new breed of company evolving to manage this complexity with robots in customer service – “bots as a service” providers, that don’t sell the technology, rather the service of planning and executing your robotic initiatives, whether chatbots or the “behind the scenes bots” in your operations.