3 Safe Ways to Test Bots in Your Call Centers

Blog Post
August 06, 2019
This article was originally posted on Forbes.com

3 Safe Ways to Test Bots in Your Call Centers 960x0

Rusty Langford has been spending a lot of time lately helping companies introduce intelligent bots within their customer service centers. So he’s learned a lot about when bots actually help customers and when they annoy them.

Langford, who’s spent more than 25 years in customer service and is the vice president of client services at Harte Hanks, says the first step to exploring bots is understanding what your customers typically need help with, and how much human interaction it takes to provide that support. Look for highly repetitive, easily defined problems, he advises—scenarios in which service center teams generally know what the conversation needs to look and feel like, and what the outcome is likely to be. “Those are safe ways for companies to put their toes in the water and begin to understand what bots can actually do,” Langford says. 

Customer service execs are taking a hard look at bots for the simple reason that they can handle large volumes of calls, chats, and emails, so that service center staff can focus on the toughest questions. As the technology behind bots—known as digital assistant technology—has improved in terms of natural language processing, machine learning, and intent-matching capabilities, companies are increasingly willing to trust them to handle direct customer interaction.

Ready to start testing bots in your customer service center? Here are three “safe” use cases to consider:

1. Avoid Hidden Costs of Automatic Renewals

While consumers by the millions sign up for free trial subscriptions each year, many end up racing to close their accounts before the subscription automatically renews.

It’s not always obvious to consumers how to cancel their trials online, and once panic sets in, it can push a company’s call volume up by as much as 35% at the end of the trial period,” says Stacey Greene, head of solution services and business intelligence at Harte Hanks. 

Although some companies have cancellation forms that can be downloaded from their websites, they often require customers to re-enter their personal and financial information, email the completed form to the corporate office, and then wait for the company to respond.

But with money on the line, most consumers don’t trust the “email and wait” approach, Greene says, and prefer to speak with a live agent who can confirm the cancellation is complete.

Rather than submitting a form into some nebulous black hole, consumers can interact directly with a bot, provide identification, share account details, and then receive a cancellation confirmation number immediately,” she says. 

2. Convert Hotlines to ‘Botlines’

Technology companies are particularly sensitive to the costs of supporting customers with live agents, with up to 60% of their tech support calls coming from customers asking basic questions about software release dates, mobile device compatibility, and application upgrades, Greene says.

While many companies still have their agents assist customers using typed, step-by-step how-to manuals, Greene advises companies to train a bot to walk customers through those instructions instead.

Having a tier-two, highly-trained agent walk a customer through a standard installation procedure is a waste,” she says. “Those agents would be much more productive solving complex software problems, troubleshooting hardware failures, or de-escalating all sorts of other service requests that require expert, human support.

3. Help Customers Recover Their Own Passwords

Although lots of companies feature self-service reset options on their websites, password problems continue to plague the world’s call centers, representing as much as 15% to 30% of a total service ticket volume, according to Harte Hanks.

At one large streaming app client, Harte Hanks found an excessive volume of calls coming from customers who had trouble remembering their passwords. By adding artificial intelligence to the interactive voice response system, the system could use customer login histories to predict password problems and offer password reset options early in the voice response system, without involving an agent. 

Upgrading to bots let the company recover customer passwords in less than 2 minutes, down from nearly 10 minutes when assisted by a call center agent. That also allowed it to redirect half its agents to handle more complex calls and provide more personalized care to customers who required special attention, Greene says.


Editor's Note: Customers don't like the uncertainty of filling out an online form to unsubscribe. Bots provide an immediate confirmation/feedback that customers can save as a record to show their subscription was cancelled. This provides customers with the confidence that their issue was resolved or that the unsubscribe completed.

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