Are Consumers Ready For Chatbot Customer Service?

call center

For better or worse, call centers are often retailers’ public face. Customer service can make a stronger impression on consumers than other factors like price, selection or location.

Increasingly, call centers are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) for an assist. According to the latest Call Center Commerce Tracker, the global call center AI market is projected to increase at 28.5 percent CAGR between 2019 and 2024.

Consumers have grown accustomed to personalization when interacting with merchants, and that expectation has extended to customer service. Call centers have been using AI to meet this demand, obtain better customer insights, while strengthening their authentication methods and fraud protection strategies.

Fraud is no small matter. According to the study, predicted losses due to account takeovers at call centers are set to reach $775 million by 2020.

Balancing Virtual Assistants With Live Help

In an earlier interview with PYMNTS, Chris Bauserman, vice president of product and segment marketing for call center solutions provider NICE inContact, said he imagines AI playing a larger role in call centers in the future, although he doesn’t see AI replacing humans any time soon.

“Quite frankly, AI is never going to replace the human customer service agent. But what it can do is make that experience much better for the customer, and they’re going to make a lot of different transactions much easier to do,” he said.

The increased usage of mobile and digital services for customer care isn’t unique to retail; it’s having repercussions across many customer-centric industries, like luxury, insurance and airlines, where phone calls still matter.

Airlines don’t have the best reputation for speedy, satisfactory customer service, which has opened up new opportunities for innovation. Delta Airlines recently integrated mobile into customer service and in June launched support via Apple Business Chat.

Still in the testing phase, Delta’s AI-based virtual assistant starts conversations with customers and answers simple questions or guides users to solutions. And in what is becoming a call center best practice, the virtual assistant hands the customer over to a human agent when an issue is too complex. So far, approximately one-third of all customer interactions are currently handled by the bot.

AI Is Getting Smarter

Tori Forbes-Roberts, vice president of reservation sales and customer care for Delta, explained the complementary nature of chatbots and live agents.

“The opportunity here is the bot’s capability to handle the easy questions and transactions, [which] allows [human agents] to focus on some of the more complex transactions or really just on building relationships with our customers,” she said.

The AI aspect is intended to enable the virtual assistant to learn what types of questions the customers are asking in order to refine responses.

To that end, telecommunications company Verizon has recently expanded its use of AI with the development of an API solution to make real-time predictions to anticipate customer requests. Since the implementation, average call times have been cut in half. The ultimate goal is for AI predictions to be generated within the first five minutes of a call.

What Customers Want

Studies have shown that customers prefer reaching a live agent to being dropped into an interactive voice response (IVR) system. According to CFI Group, customers who speak directly with an agent are 27 percent more satisfied than customers who first reach an IVR system.

But this doesn’t always hold true for mobile users. That survey also found that in 2019, nearly half (48 percent) of customers who try the company website before calling customer service do so using a mobile device. Additionally, online chat users reported greater satisfaction than average and gave agents higher scores.

Ready or not, virtual customer assistants (VCAs) are the wave of the future. According to Gartner, chatbots, or VCAs will be used in 25 percent of customer service and support operations by 2020. In this study, companies reported a reduction of up to 70 percent in call, chat and/or email inquiries after implementing a VCA, as well as a boost in customer satisfaction and a 33 percent savings per voice engagement.