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Heralding the new age of the chatbot

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By James Stokes, Enterprise Team Lead UKI, Infobip 

When people think ‘robot’ they may visualise a 1960s-style sci-fi creation, but today’s robots come in many forms. And although many of these may be invisible to consumers in the form of chatbots and automated services, they are forging the way for a new era of customer experience.

We’ve seen plenty of dynamic use cases of robots in modern day retail, from Amazon introducing automated retail through their digital Amazon Fresh grocery stores and robot-powered micro-fulfilment, to a whole host of organisations investing in chatbots to provide assistance to online shoppers.

And with Insider Intelligence predicting that consumer retail spend via chatbots worldwide will reach $142 billion by the end of 2024, we find ourselves asking – is the chatbot leading the way of today’s digital-first economy?

The age of the chatbot

The scale and potential of robotisation boils down to its role in improving CX. We’ve seen during the pandemic that consumers prefer a blend of approaches when interacting with brands – and the retail industry is investing in new ways to enable this.

For some time, we’ve spoken of chatbots as ‘the future’. Yet we’re well past the tipping point of automated conversation as a new and emerging technology. According to research, 60% of people have engaged with a chatbot in the last year, and 35% of consumers say they would like to see more companies taking advantage of chatbots. Chatbots are now simply part of modern life, accelerated by the pandemic and an increased desire from consumers to engage with brands instantly and digitally. For businesses, this means embracing automation to greet customers at the digital front door, on a landing page website, or providing support for FAQs by making sense of what’s been said, understanding intent, and generating a suitable answer.

Breaking down the CX advantages

Businesses shouldn’t view implementing a chatbot as a tick-box exercise. Robotisation like this has real, tangible benefits in terms of automating services, reducing pressure on human agents, and the provision of instantaneous communication.

Not only are chatbots proliferating in retail settings, but the next generation workforce is heralding their use in corporate environments.Gartner predicts that in 2022, 70% of white-collar workers will interact with conversational platforms daily, given that chatbots cater to millennials’ demand for instant, digital connections that keep them up to date.

The crux of their effectiveness is the immediacy of response. According to Google, over half (53%) of website visits are abandoned if a mobile page takes longer than 3 seconds to load. Tech dependency means we’re becoming more impatient with slower services, and chatbots can help approach this challenge by dispensing wait times with human agents. Chatbots can initiate the conversation, asking for an overview of why a customer is enquiring, and potentially being able to answer the question through rule-based software. In the instance a more sophisticated response is needed, the chatbot can then hand this over to dedicated customer service teams, ensuring all relevant context is at the agent’s fingertips, so they can provide the right support.

Advancements in chatbot tech

Chatbots are nothing new, yet misconceptions still exist around their efficacy. Years ago, rudimentary chatbots could only answer very basic questions, and would prove inadequate replacements for speaking to a human agent. Today, however, artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots are trained to understand customer intent through Natural Language Processing (NLP). Customers don’t have to stick to a set script as the chatbot is able to make sense of what’s been said, understand the intent, and generate a suitable answer. This makes interaction much more natural and avoids scenarios where deviation from the script drives the conversation to a grinding halt. And, thanks to machine learning, these chatbots get smarter over time as they’re exposed to more conversational data. A report by IBM found that chatbots can answer 80% of questions.

To capitalise on technology advancements in this space, French luxury fashion brand DIOR Beauty recently launched an industry-first campaign with global influencer Jisoo. Users can interact on WhatsApp in a way that lets them feel like they’re talking to Jisoo – they can choose the type of content they want to receive, from themed videos to exclusive behind the scenes footage of Jisoo’s life as a brand ambassador.

Harnessing chatbot capabilities to deliver enriched communications like this means that brands can connect one-on-one without the challenge of ensuring individual human interactions. Yet, when necessary, the switch from chatbot to human agent is imperceptible, as part of a consistent, seamless digital service.

Chatbots as a force for good

Instant communication through chatbots has positive effects in terms of keeping customers engaged and informed. Not only are we seeing chatbots make CX waves in the private sector, but they can also be used as tech for good.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several public and government health organisations across the world were faced with the challenge of providing up-to-date information quickly and at scale, whilst also combatting misinformation. For many, the answer was using chatbots to alleviate pressure on contact centres, who were already facing a significant influx of calls, while ensuring the public had access to the latest advice and guidance.

These chatbots, built by Infobip and WhatsApp, were easily accessible over a publicly available number. Contact was initiated by the user through entering a number in their contact list and sending “Hi”. This started a dialogue with the WhatsApp chatbot, where users could choose from a list of topics depending on the information they were looking for.

Chatbots like this were used across the globe – from the UK to India – to ensure the right information was accessible 24-7, and so contact centres could function as efficiently as possible during an exceptionally busy time.

Final thoughts

Customers expect to reach businesses whenever they want, wherever they want, and for the experience across each channel to be integrated and seamless. A customer might discover your product on Instagram, send a direct message on the app for more information, go to your website for purchase, and then remain in touch via WhatsApp for ongoing support. At every stage they expect consistency.

Chatbot messages, WhatsApp updates, email confirmations – these can all be managed by an invisible robotic hand, to keep customers updated and satisfied across a plethora of channels. Robots aren’t gadgets and gizmos that have no purpose – they are here to stay, and their involvement in boosting CX will only grow.

OPINION: A new era of customer service for brands

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By Eric Leboeuf, Director of Strategic Channel Partnerships at Infobip

The pandemic has altered the customer experience landscape indefinitely. Consumers are demanding, unforgiving and know what they want – and contact centres have transformed how they operate in tandem. As the world migrated from offices to home and ‘Zoom’ became 2020’s most prevalent eponym, a new path emerged for the future of customer service.

In a short space of time, agents had to move from answering phone calls or emails, to dealing with a plethora of customer contact channels, such as WhatsApp, SMS, live chat and video calls. Businesses and outsourced contact centres had to think about technology through the eyes of their customers to reduce inefficiencies, eliminate pain points and increase the value of every interaction no matter what channel it’s on.

In this article, I will discuss how brands can optimise customer experience by maximising the benefits of virtual contact centres.

Evolving customer expectations

Today’s consumer expects to be able to contact a business at any time, from anywhere, and on any platform – and it’s given rise to new demands.

After interviewing more than 2,000 British people, Infobip found a third (33%) now have higher expectations for customer service since the first lockdown and 32% have said that they will not spend time with a business that provides poor service again. Their biggest frustrations include waiting time (35%), limited ways to contact a company (31%) and repeating details multiple times to an agent (20%).

We also found that 35% of customers are happier to engage with brands on digital channels since the pandemic . And there is no clear channel preference – 52% of people prefer to use multiple channels, rather than relying on one.

Contact centres need to build a cohesive, consistent approach to customer service that caters for consumers’ changing preferences and modes of consumption. Brands should use customer data to decipher which channel a customer prefers, whether that’s their favourite messaging app or a live chat on your website. What’s more, by ensuring customer data is in one place, responses can be tailored to the customer’s unique needs with no time-consuming switching between channels.

Revamping the contact centre infrastructure

There’s no denying that those companies that have had the easiest time with the digital transition are those that have migrated to contact-centre-as-a-service (CCaaS) solutions. There are several reasons why.

The migration of workers to home offices has complicated operations, for example agents cannot ask the floor walker or the colleague next to them for advice, they solely rely on digital tools like internal chat channels to ask for advice or coaching.  Through a cloud contact centre, agents can continue to provide superior service from the comfort of their homes, advising customers and conversing with their colleagues, no matter where or when they log on. The cloud also provides the flexibility that businesses need to handle continuous growth and seasonal peaks, as well as experiment with new service models.

The use of Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVA) is one of many automation solutions helping contact centres, particularly when answering FAQs which represents a large portion of customer enquiries. By handling more repetitive and basic customer enquiries, the speed and accuracy of handling transactions is increased, and customer experience is improved.

The human workforce

Having CCaaS solutions that engage human agents to step in at the right time is also essential, allowing them to solve more high value, complex issues beyond FAQ’s that can require multiple branches of support for one customer query, for example payment or delivery support.

This means agents can manage multiple digital channels at a time, ensuring they have the tools to do what they do best: delivering personalised responses, answering queries faster and increasing customer satisfaction. Thanks to IVA support, human agents will spend less time on low value enquiries, meaning cost savings via increased efficiency. Metrics can also inform brands on the ratio of queries going to agents versus IVA. In these scenarios, brands can evaluate their contact centres to ensure agents are not overloaded. Finally, by shifting an agent’s responsibility to more challenging and rewarding tasks, new and upgraded career doors are likely to open up.

COVID-19 chatbots 

Let’s look at this in practice. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several public and government health organisations across the world, for example Public Health England, were faced with the challenge of providing up-to-date information quickly and at scale, whilst also combatting misinformation. For many, the answer has been using chatbots to alleviate pressure on contact centres, who were already facing a significant influx of calls, while ensuring the public have access to the latest advice and guidance.

These chatbots, built by Infobip and WhatsApp, are easily accessible over a publicly available number. Contact is initiated by the user through entering a number in their contact list and sending “Hi”. This starts a dialogue with the WhatsApp chatbot, where users can choose from a list of topics depending on the information they are looking for. This includes the latest guidelines, case numbers, testing site locations and FAQs. If further assistance is required, chatbots can smoothly transfer the conversation to a human agent for detailed answers to more complex queries.

Chatbots like this have been used across the globe – from the UK to India – to ensure the right information is accessible 24-7, and so contact centres can function as efficiently as possible during an exceptionally busy time.  A report by IBM found that chatbots can answer 80% of standard questions. With many now integrated with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), chatbots are trained to recognise customer intent through what we call natural language processing (NLP). Pair this with ML processes, and chatbots will advance over time as they’re exposed to more conversational data.

Final words

The digitally savvy contact centre is racing ahead of its peers. Relying on a hybrid workforce means bots can handle high frequency, low value requests, leaving agents to focus on delivering more personalised and detailed responses. The return on investment from purchase conversion and repeat brand loyalty is invaluable. Companies must incorporate digital tools to boost their contact centre infrastructure as we enter an era of new customer service.

In data we trust: Building customer confidence in a digital economy

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By Richard Menear, CEO, Burning Tree

In the modern, digital world, online shopping is becoming the norm within the retail market. Accelerated by the pandemic, the UK’s proportion of online retail sales soared to the highest on record, reaching 35.2% in January 2021. And with digitisation continuing to evolve the online shopping experience, it is unlikely that we will see a shift back to pre-pandemic norms anytime soon.

So, what does this mean for business-customer relationships in the digital era? Without the experience of in-person shopping, online user experience has a strong influence over consumers’ buying decisions. As a result, brands must define their reputation as trustworthy and reputable providers by shaping their processes around customers’ online behaviours.

‘Digital trust’ is defined as the confidence users have in the ability of processes, people and technology to create a secure digital world, dividing the dependable services from the corrupt ones.

In a world where most people understand that not every online service is legitimate, establishing digital trust helps users decide which companies will keep their personal information safe. So, how can businesses gain the trust of their digital customers — and what will happen if they do not?

Why should businesses build digital trust?

When people make a purchase or interact with an online retailer, they demonstrate their digital trust in that business. However, the quality of the service is no longer defined by how an interface looks or how easy it is to navigate.

Customer expectations have evolved with digitisation. Driven by rapid device proliferation and improved internet connectivity, the modern online shopper expects to encounter seamless digital processes from sign-in to purchase — particularly since the pandemic, which increased the number of people using online services regularly.

Today, customers are more aware of how their data is being used and stored and base their shopping behaviours on a provider’s ability to ensure security. The Okta Digital Trust Index (2021), which surveyed 13,000 office workers, found that 88% of people in the UK were unlikely to purchase from a brand they did not trust. And according to a recent report on the 20 most-trusted UK retailers, 58% of consumers are highly conscious about their safety when shopping online, citing identity theft as a significant concern.

Plus, with most businesses working online in some capacity, the government is introducing more regulations for using technology to use and manage digital identities. A new digital ‘trust framework‘ was announced earlier this year to make sharing digital identities between users easier and safer, allowing more control over what personal information is available to different services and organisations.

There are several ways businesses can generate a loyal digital customer base — from generating positive customer reviews to providing excellent customer service. But when it comes to digital trust, three main factors make people in the UK more likely to trust a brand: its service reliability, good security policies and quick response times — all of which can be facilitated by successful digital transformation.

Building digital trust with digital transformation

Cyber security is an essential consideration for organisations undergoing digital transformation, which involves implementing technology to automate processes, encourage a more cyber-aware business culture, increase security and refine the user experience. As such, retailers must ensure data is protected from a cyber breach to remain compliant and secure digital customers — and keep them coming back.

According to Okta’s survey, 47% of UK people permanently stopped using a firm’s services after hearing of a data breach. As such, IT professionals are harnessing advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning to support existing traditional threat models and automate risk management to reduce the overall probability of falling victim to a cyber attack.

Many organisations are also taking a ‘zero-trust’ approach to cyber security, which means that no activity within a network is trusted straight away. Every device, service, application or user connected by a network must go through a robust identity and access management process to gain a least privileged level of trust and associated access entitlements. As such, implementing a zero-trust framework helps bolster cyber security and minimises the likelihood of a breach.

Effective customer identity and access management (CIAM) solutions will also enable organisations to capture and interpret customer profile data to inform customised user experiences whilst controlling secure access to services and applications. A robust CIAM solution may involve implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA), self-service account management and single sign-on (SSO) to minimise friction, increase engagement and develop trust in business processes over time.

Personalisation should be harnessed for better customer communication in 2022

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Paul Adams, Senior Director at cloud communications platform Twilio, has shared his 2022 predictions, drawing on observations in consumer behaviour and customer engagement over the pandemic…

  1. The increased use of first-party data to understand customers from small businesses

“Historically, Netflix and Amazon have dominated the practice of personalisation by making use of first party data, but this will be increasingly used by a wider array of businesses too. The emergence of customer data platforms has made it easier for businesses to harness this data, enabling them to replicate these same levels of personalisation for themselves. Customers now expect this personalised experience, and as more companies begin to rethink their approach to customer experience and update their communication methods, we’ll see a levelling out across businesses of all sizes.

All businesses are going to need to understand all their customer touch points, journeys and profile to the same extent in the long run. Otherwise, consumers’ relationships with your business will be generic, not personalised, and ultimately the consumer will gravitate towards the competition.  So regardless of whether you’re a broadband provider, a grocery retailer, or a holiday booking company, you’ve got to prove that the way you’re engaging with customers and the experience you’re delivering is the best.”

2. The mass digital transformation of small businesses in the B2C market 

“Digital transformation was at the forefront of business conversations before the pandemic, but the sudden need to convert businesses to a digital model overnight significantly sped up the process — by as much as 6 years for many. Businesses are now coming to the end of their natural tech refresh cycles and are accepting that digital transformation is imperative for survival in the market. While large businesses are more likely to have made this jump already, smaller organisations, which have tighter resources and more restrictive budgets by nature, have been slower to make the transition. Many small businesses simply didn’t have the resources to completely remodel during the pandemic, so instead focused on making smaller adjustments for survival. Now, these SMBs, which account  for around 99.2% of businesses in the UK, will be the ones leading this technology innovation and investing in digital transformation for the longer-term. As a result, the level of digital innovation we see from SMBs will be on a level akin to that seen from entrepreneurs in the 1980s.

“Beyond that you’re going to see a lot of industries adopting technology to support better customer engagement. We’re already seeing this in the UK’s mature market, with industries like healthcare, utilities, even buying and selling cars, increasingly moving to a more digital model. Ultimately, their product hasn’t changed but the way they interact with consumers has evolved with apps, chat bots, SMS and WhatsApp for reminders, conversations and alerts. Big brands like Uber and AirBnB have mastered this technique, and innovative start-ups are integrating these lessons into their business models. However, the SMBs that got through the pandemic with limited and underdeveloped digital migrations will now be adjusting their models and their communication methods to meet this expectation.  We’re going to see some very fast-growing companies in this space, as a pressure to differentiate mounts and the ones who engage well, with a great digital service, will be the one to own the transaction.

3. Hybrid lifestyles will be consolidated in the next year, and we expect to see an increased reliance on digital communications for older demographics remote over 30s. 

“The move from pandemic to endemic is an important shift and will have a notable impact on customer engagement. This change will be felt as we experience more new variants and subsequent periods of re-socialisation – and consumer behaviour will be driven by these patterns  as we learn to live with the disease. From this we’ll see three main camps emerge: those who want to return to how things were, those who embrace a hybrid lifestyle and others who adopt a purely remote way of living.”

“Age is a large determining factor driving this changing consumer behaviour. In many cases, it’s younger people who want to return to cities for that socialisation they’ve missed out on this past year, whilst slightly older groups are feeling the benefits of hybrid or remote working more as they have more flexibility to manoeuvre their working lives around families and other commitments. These two groups will be further consolidated in this next phase of the pandemic. Hybrid lifestyles will be solidified with new, flexible commuting patterns while remote lifestyles will become more normalised as families move out of cities and become full-time work-from-home employees.

Younger demographics have historically driven digital adoption. If you look at social media, for example, it’s the 18-35 year olds that make up 80% of users in the UK.  Yet while this age group will continue to lead the charge in embracing newer inventions, we’ll see older demographics start to adapt more to the everyday use of technology to support increasingly hybrid lifestyles. From here, we’ll see greater integration of technologies like digital communications tools to facilitate these lifestyles, so people can work more flexibly and efficiently in the way they choose. Overall, this will increase the prevalence of technology in all of our communities.

4. Business tech innovation decisions will be made based on making businesses ‘future-proof’ rather than just price. 

“The pandemic has highlighted two things for businesses when it comes to technology. First is the importance of having multiple communication channels to alleviate the risk of disruption for customers, and second is the need to invest in technology that will safe-guard businesses for the future. No one could have predicted the pandemic and its effects, but for businesses, it quickly became apparent that those who were forward leaning with their technology footprint were able to make the necessary adjustments to survive. Those who weren’t struggled, and many sadly didn’t make it.  I think this idea of making businesses ‘future proof’ has really taken root and will influence our investment decisions and priorities moving forward. Thinking about long-term solutions that can weather storms will become the way we decide on investment, more so than just considering price. This is also relevant when thinking about sustainability and climate change.

“Something else to consider here is the impact of the “Great Resignation” when it comes to future-proofing businesses. The relationship between organisations and their staff has changed for the long term, and employers are now having to ask themselves how they attract and maintain essential workforce when one in four employees are re-evaluating their careers. Investing in technologies that enable flexibility and open communication with employees and customers is no longer just an IT project — it’s about making fundamental changes to the business model to ensure survival and growth. Those who deploy the tools of digital transformation will be in a far greater position for the next uncertain wave arrives. This is what we mean when we say ‘future-proofing’.”

Movers & shakers: Talkwalker’s top 10 brands of 2021

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2021 flashed by, and brands across the globe kept the pedal to the metal to stay one step ahead of a relentless year. COVID restrictions eased and then returned, competition in the digital realm was fiercer than ever, and consumer preferences changed in the blink of an eye.

However, there were several brands that excelled against all odds, and these are the brands to draw inspiration from as we journey through 2022.

Click here to see Talkwalker’s top 10 brands of 2021.

DOWNLOAD: The future of workforce engagement in the contact centre

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By Talkdesk

This year, as employers and employees navigate a work environment that is anything but “business as usual,” leaders in every area are discovering more questions than clear answers. And the contact centre is no exception.

While many uncertainties remain in determining the future of workforce engagement, it is safe to expect that those organizations prioritizing employee experience have much to gain, both in bottom-line results and an enhanced CX.

What you’ll learn:

    • Which workforce model will dominate in the post-pandemic world.
    • What the future holds for contact centre engagement and Workforce Engagement Management (WEM) tools.
    • What role collaboration will play in the contact centre between now and 2025.

DOWNLOAD REPORT

EvaluAgent and Puzzel form strategic alliance to strengthen growth and support shared product visions

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Puzzel, the leading European provider of cloud contact centre solutions, has announced the signing of a new strategic alliance with EvaluAgent, a leading Quality Assurance and Performance Management platform.

As a result of the alliance, EvaluAgent’s technology will be integrated into the Puzzel’s Cloud based Customer Service Platform, designed to directly address some of the biggest workforce engagement and optimisation challenges contact centres face as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

WHITE PAPER: Transform Customer Service with Next-Gen Knowledge

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By eGain

Over 5,000 consumers told us in a survey that the biggest hurdles to good customer experience are: “contact center agents are not knowledgeable,” “different agents give different answers,” and “I can’t find answers on the company website.”

At the same time, customer service contact center agents confessed that “finding the right answers” and “answer to different questions vary in different systems” posed the biggest hurdles in providing good customer service when the customer was on the line.

The reason for both experiences is the same: Legacy knowledge management (KM) systems that are failing to deliver answers and knowledge silos that create chaos for the business and the customer. The solution is also the same: Next-gen knowledge.

What are the characteristics of next-gen knowledge? How are Global 1000 innovators leveraging next-gen knowledge to transform customer service? What has been the payoff for them and their customers? How can you get going with next-gen knowledge? Know in this white paper.

Do you know what’s missing from your CX strategy?

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By Genesys

Our team here at Genesys have been hard at work creating a digital consultancy solution focused on Omnichannel Contact Centre.  This is in the form of an online self-assessment that will enable you to benchmark against industry standards, identify relevant use cases, and define your CX strategy roadmap.  We’d like to invite you to take advantage of this digital consultancy.

This online self-assessment should take just 5 minutes to complete. Our system will then generate a bespoke report for you which we can walk through. You can also share this invitation with other contacts within your business to complete the assessment and we will correlate the results.

Your report will show anonymously benchmarked results, an assessment of your strengths and also a specific action plan to show you the fastest path to an optimised position.

Just click here to complete your self-assessment and receive your report today!

WHITE PAPER: Video in the contact center – How to future-proof your CX

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By Vonage

Putting your customers first by serving them on their channel of choice can be challenging and complex for both your business and agents. Adding video to the mix can take that to the next level.

Adrian Swinscoe, best-selling author and Forbes contributor, outlines these challenges and provides industry-specific use cases in his new whitepaper: Video in the Contact Center – How to Future-Proof Your CX.

Download to read how video can take your CX into the future.