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Let’s Talk About Bots, Baby.

Artificial intelligence may sound like something out of science fiction, but the truth is we’re already using AI in everyday business. We recently sat down with our social media expert and Director of Global Digital Solutions Sarah Grace McCandless to talk about how these “bots” are changing the customer service experience.

What role is artificial intelligence playing in the customer service world?

We see AI as a complement to — not a replacement of — live agents. It’s a social IVR (interactive voice response) that can be used successfully to help screen customers and get them to the right agent or in the right queue. A good process filters customers, sending them where they need to be, but quickly, limiting the number of steps required within the user experience. If done correctly bots can help with some of the initial “lifting” and free up our live agents for more detailed one-on-one support, providing an overall better customer experience.

In your opinion, what makes a bot system effective?

If you create a bot system that helps customers get from Point A to Point B and finally to Point C a lot faster, then that’s going to be a good customer experience. That’s when you can call your system a success.

Do these bots ever backfire? Are there ways they can hurt the customer experience?

If filtering is too deep, then you can lose customer interest or even foster negative sentiment. If your customers are reaching out, they want to get the problem solved as quickly and easily as possible — a bot shouldn’t get in the way of this.

How can they get in the way?

When you try to use only that technology to solve customer problems. What happens is it comes across as impersonal, as if you’re shoving someone off and not truly interested in attending to their issues. It’s in direct conflict with the personalization that we’ve also seen as a growing trend in social media, such as live agents not only addressing the customer by their name, but closing off their support response with their own name or initials.

We deploy this practice in several current client social programs right now. Not only are we trying to communicate that, yes, this is a real person, but I’m even going to tell you my name so we can get a little bit more conversational.

Do you feel like this customer service experience gets left out in AI discussions?

Yeah, it’s funny. When I research artificial intelligence or bots with customer service, mainly what I see are the big tech companies investing in artificial intelligence. However, it doesn’t seem to be from a customer service perspective. It’s seems we’re talking about it, but we’re not really talking about it. People just want to know about the cool part. Not many people are interested in the less flashy but more practical application of real-life customer service bots.

Who do you think will be leading the charge in incorporating bots into the customer service experience?

Hospitality and travel brands should be considering AI strategy immediately, especially as they’ve been at the forefront of prioritizing social care as a support channel. The 24/7, always-on nature of social media, coupled with the real-time needs that organically occur within this specific industry – like hotel check-in or flight delays – have led to high expectations for immediate support from the customer perspective. Best-in-class programs within travel and hospitality are currently providing an average response time (first point of contact) in sub-5-10 minutes or less, so this is certainly an area where AI could come in handy as a supplement to meet those expectations.

Telecommunication providers along with home services such as wifi or cable companies are also prime for early adoption of AI, and we’re seeing some interesting developments on this front as of late, both in Facebook and Twitter. Facebook Messenger bot functionalities currently include persistent menu, which can be customized to display up to five options. Twitter also recently rolled out new direct message (DM) functionalities focused on customer service and leveraging bot/AI technology, including Quick Replies, which prompts users to select from a set of actions, such as tracking a package, chatting with a live agent, or providing feedback. Companies can experiment with how these new features work via DM to the @furni Twitter account.

Another consideration: I think it’s the companies that are developing and offering social AI should be practicing what they preach, from IBM and Microsoft to Google, Twitter, and Facebook. They’re proposing solutions, but it will be interesting to see how they apply them to their own best practices for social support to demonstrate proof of concepts through their own company efforts.

So what advances do you think tech companies will be making down the line from an AI/Bot perspective?

Virtual reality will be an interesting area to keep an eye, particularly with the development of Social VR networks such as vTime, and how this intersects with AI and subsequent potential customer care support.