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Original post by Peter Mckean - MD, Synthetix
You can't have missed the announcements from Facebook and Microsoft that they have developed 'bot' frameworks that will enable a whole new category of self-service applications running within platforms such as Facebook Messenger or Skype. These were followed by near-hysterical speculative articles proclaiming the death of the call-centre.
Not quite true.
I have a personal stake in this game, and a perspective on why bots aren't the be-all and end-all of customer service - but also where they can be useful.
In 2001, Synthetix created one of the first commercially available customer-service Virtual Agent bot platforms - SmartAgent. It was clever - able to remember context, collect information and post it through databases, chat with customers and, crucially, answer their questions. We found customers for the software with the BBC, Ford and BT amongst many. It was an exciting time and we believed we were at the vanguard of an AI revolution, convinced by reports from excitable industry analysts predicting an explosion in bots.
It never happened.
One problem was that the analysts talked to vendors such as us, all of whom painted a rosy picture of the market potential. Then, they wrote their reports and we read them, literally believing our own hype. Another problem was that the product category was difficult to do well. Without exception, Virtual Agents required a big investment in time to get right, from the visuals to the conversational elements to the customer journey. And choosing a visualisation (a friendly human face) that worked for all markets was difficult, if not impossible.
No, Virtual Agents were a perfect niche product - always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Always threatening to become mainstream, never succeeding. Finally realising that a focus on Virtual Agents would always inhibit our growth potential, we radically changed strategy, taking our core expertise in knowledge-base management and building a portfolio of interconnected customer service tools such as live chat, email management and FAQ web self-service which put a knowledge-base at the heart of a multi-channel customer experience. The hardest decision was not to consider the bots as the centrepiece of the portfolio or the ultimate solution to any client problem, but as just another service no more or less valid that the other tools we developed. It was the right decision. We've grown massively on the back of that change in business model and Virtual Agents now represent just 5% of our business.
Of course, technologies like Siri and Cortana have renewed interest in Virtual Agents. Strictly speaking, Siri and company are Virtual Assistants, not Virtual Agents - digital PAs, not digital customer-service agents. The new bot frameworks from Facebook and Microsoft blur the lines, somewhat, allowing users to self-serve through a conveniently available interface. Beyond the natural language extensions, these are simply channels - new ways for customers to contact brands and receive support directly inside environments such as Facebook Messenger. If you have an online presence and a healthy customer-base, it's your responsibility to support your customers however they choose to get in touch - there's no point having great telephone support if most of your customers visit your website, for instance. In fact, statistics we collect from our live chat instances suggest that 13% of customers simply would not contact you, except through online channels!
Companies like Synthetix will connect these new channels to our existing automated natural language self-service engines and offer escalation up to live agents when it will support a good customer experience. Ultimately, these new developments are not a threat to call centres, they're a welcome opportunity to serve customers better and relieve agents of having to deal with humdrum queries which are more appropriately handled through self-service mechanisms.
Live chat on tap: Anglian Water’s new digital support channel delights customers
Stansted, Oct 2016: Anglian Water has launched live chat to support and enhance their online customer service offering.
The service provided by multi-channel customer service software specialists, Synthetix, assists customers with questions or queries they might have, without the need to make a phone call and in real-time.
Nearly 40% of all the large UK water companies use online customer service technologies from Synthetix and 6, including Anglian Water, are rated in the top 10 for customer service in 2015-2016.
Adam Ashcroft, Director at Synthetix said, “We are delighted to be working with Anglian Water. Having another water utility provider choose Synthetix, confirms that we truly speak water utilities. We are confident that the live chat solution from Synthetix, will enhance and support both Anglian Water customers and their contact centre agents, ensuring quick, accurate and consistent support through this service.”
Jamie Dixon, Digital Customer Service Team Manager at Anglian Water said “As customers are already online, using live chat requires little effort, with no need to phone. It offers quicker responses in real-time than other channels such as email. We are delighted with the new live chat solution from Synthetix, the system has definitely been really well received by customers and agents alike”.
About Anglian Water
Anglian Water is the largest water and water recycling company in England and Wales by geographic area. Anglian Water supplies drinking water and water recycling services to more than six million domestic and business customers in the east of England and Hartlepool across an area of 27,500 square km.
Anglian Water is leading the way in raising awareness about how essential water is to life, to people and the environment, and to a vibrant and growing economy too. Website: http://www.anglianwater.co.uk
Isn’t it strange how most humans don’t like change, but we expect and want more from tech each day? Each day new technologies are emerging, enhancements are made to existing technologies and technologies that don’t keep up, well, they die. We are living in an on-demand world lead by companies such as Uber, Airbnb and TelaDoc.
I recently revisited thingful.net, a search engine for the internet of things. This website displays data from all over the world such as Lisha: A Female White Shark swimming just off the coast of South Africa, aircraft and ship movements to the only web server on a secluded island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s quite overwhelming to think that we are part of this forever ‘on’ world where our virtual and physical worlds blur together creating a reality where we just can’t imagine living without our smart devices.
The data represented by the immense number of dots puts into perspective the enormous challenge companies today face in their efforts to stand out in a world filled with so much digital noise.
Industry experts are constantly reminding us that Customer Experience is THE key differentiator to keeping and acquiring new business. They tell us that customers expect a choice of connected touch points/channels to engage with a company in a seamless manner. What they don’t tell you is how to create a clear contact channel strategy, a smarter approach to IT infrastructure or which intelligent interactive technology will be successful in a bid to outclass the competition. Companies must work this out for themselves.
But there are game changers, brands that have permanently redefined what customer experience should be. The brand obsessed with customer experience, Amazon, is just going from strength to strength.
How do they do it? In his annual letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos humbly stated why Amazon continues to be so successful: “Our focus is on customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence.”
Looking at what others are doing well, and doing it better, could be the recipe, albeit not passed down through generations, but rather borrowed, to delivering extraordinary customer experiences tailored for your audience.
Technology can be a trend setter, but not everyone has to create their own version of Echo. Having consistent and integrated support across channels can greatly enhance the customer experience e.g. investing in a knowledge-base that integrates with live chat, in the contact centre, with self-service FAQs on a website and on social media.
Like Amazon, we like to do things a little differently. We are hosting a Customer Experience event with a twist on 2 November in Leeds at a quirky venue to set the scene. The message however remains serious, debunking the myths around creating Omni-channel Customer Experiences.
Why not join us by registering for your free seat here.
Or if you like a good horror story, why not download our infographic of thriller customer experience statistics.