By Aaron Lumnah, Senior Manager Marketing Demand Generation

Automated chatbots, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), have been growing in popularity and are increasingly being used in a variety of ways to support customer service across many different industries. Leveraging not only AI, but also machine learning and natural language processing technologies, today’s chatbots have become much more sophisticated than earlier prototypes. They can not only understand the questions customers ask of them, but increasingly, also the context around the conversation and the consumers’ preferences. They can even be trained to learn from each customer interaction, which builds their bank of knowledge and allows them to become better at addressing customer needs over time.

A 2019 survey conducted by Salesforce revealed that 53 percent of service organizations expected to adopt chatbot technology within 18 months, which represented a 136 percent growth rate. That growth rate has surely been accelerated in the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has spurred a tremendous surge in contact center engagement. With stay-at-home orders across much of the globe, people are calling, emailing and otherwise reaching out to businesses to cancel their travel arrangements and other appointments, and turning to the telephone and digital channels to conduct transactions they normally would have done in person. As a result, chatbots have become even more important for businesses, providing a cost-effective way to assist more customers while meeting them in whatever channel they prefer – the website, email, text messaging, social media platforms or even messaging platforms like Slack, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Businesses are using chatbots in all of these channels to quickly respond to customers and address their needs 24/7.

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Likewise, customers have embraced chatbots as a convenient way to get what they need without having to wait for long hold times on the phone or dig deep into a website to find the information they seek. A survey of 1,000 consumers found that only 38 percent actually want to talk with a human when engaging with a brand. People still appreciate the human interaction of speaking with a customer service representative (CSR), but many recognize that through automated self-service, they can often get what they need more quickly and at any time of day or night.

Here are five popular ways businesses are using chatbots in customer service to improve the customer experience:

Answering FAQs

One of the most common ways businesses use chatbots is as a virtual assistant on the website, to answer customers’ frequently asked questions, provide links to relevant information or direct customers to the appropriate forms they need to conduct a transaction. This saves customers from the hassle of scouring a website to find an answer, by providing it to them nearly instantaneously. One very successful example can be seen by looking at Amtrak. The organization’s AI chatbot answers more than 5 million questions per year, on average. It also saved the transportation company $1 million in customer service costs in its first year alone, and increased bookings by 25 percent.

Booking Appointments with Sales Teams or Customer Support Representatives

Chatbots should not be thought of as a technology used to replace human customer service representatives. Rather, they should be considered a tool that can augment and support the existing CSRs. One way they can do this is by handling the simpler customer inquiries and referring more complex situations to a live CSR. Chatbots can even automatically book appointments with CSRs and sales reps on behalf of the customer, which speeds the overall customer support process from start to finish. Last year, Square launched a chatbot called Square Assistant that enables small businesses to easily confirm appointments with their customers – or allow their customers to cancel and reschedule – all via an automated text messaging chatbot. No human involvement is required on the part of the business. Small businesses using Square Assistant saw a 10 percent reduction in no-shows.

Resolving Customer Complaints/Issues

As AI has become more sophisticated in recent years, chatbots have become much better at responding to customer needs, helping solve common complaints and issues. From helping facilitate the return or exchange of an incorrect item, to tracking a lost shipment, chatbots can walk customers through the necessary processes, log support tickets or offer incentives to make a situation right. For any customer issues that are more complex and require a human touch, chatbots can automatically pass the customer on to a live CSR, along with a summary of the issue up to that point, for speedy resolution.

Facilitating Purchases

Chatbots are an excellent way to facilitate purchases on a company’s website or social media pages. They can offer customers product recommendations, help them find a particular item they’re looking for, or help complete the buying process. The office supply store Staples uses a Facebook Messenger chatbot to provide customers product suggestions based on their requests and enables them to complete their purchase directly in the chat. The clothing brand H&M leverages a chatbot that asks users questions about their personal style, then displays photos in the chat of clothing suggestions that match their preferences and directs the customer on purchasing the outfits and accessories. When integrated with a cloud-based, secure payment solution like Cardprotect Relay+, businesses can easily accept payments through chatbots while ensuring that the customer’s payment card information remains secure and that the entire process is compliant with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

Paying Bills

Banks, utilities, healthcare organizations and other businesses are increasingly deploying chatbots on their websites and online portals to help customers easily update their accounts or pay bills. All a customer needs to do is open a conversation with the chatbot, provide their account information and payment details, confirm them, and receive an automated confirmation of payment. Cardprotect Relay+ enables this type of automated bill purchase through chatbots while ensuring that the payment card data is encrypted and securely routed directly to the payment service provider (PSP) for processing. The sensitive payment card data is kept out of the organization’s network infrastructure completely, which enables organizations to reduce the risk of a data breach and also reduce the scope of compliance for PCI DSS, making compliance dramatically easier and less costly.

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By enabling greater automation and self-service, chatbots can help organizations streamline customer service, reduce operational costs and even increase revenue by facilitating purchases and accepting payments. Customers love their always-on nature and ability to respond instantly. During this time of increased contact center engagement, chatbots are an important tool for helping organizations solve customer needs while delivering an excellent customer experience.

5 Ways to Use AI-Powered Chatbots to Bolster Customer Experience

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