The Bots are Coming!

Actually, they’re already here. But are you aware of them?

Today, I’m flying back from the CCW’s Executive Exchange. I not only enjoyed speaking at the event, but also the opportunity to attend its presentations. The audience was primarily made up of contact center leaders, each having a lot to say– and do –about the overall customer experience. Based on the silence at the CX conferences I attended, I’m not sure CX has a seat at the bot design table–and this is something you should be thinking about.

Multiple speakers discussed how they’re using their bots to redirect calls. Given that 81% of consumers prefer self-service, this seems like a good change overall. Allowing customers to solve their needs quickly is a good thing. But how it’s done is what concerns me a bit.

Let’s quickly review what makes up the customer experience – Effectiveness, Ease, and Emotion. Bots are automated programs built on machine learning and, in this case, answer customers’ questions without needing an agent’s help. They are a strong tool to increase effectiveness and ease. The best bots are built upon your knowledge repository and can provide answers faster and more efficiently than a human agent can. And the research presented at the conference showed that customer outcomes are best when an agent and bot work interactively to solve customer needs. This reserves agents for more difficult questions – those the bots can’t answer.

But how it’s done can impact your customers’ emotions. Do your customers feel like you’re using a bot to accelerate their research? Or do they feel like you’re using it to prevent them from talking with a human?

It’s not that bots are a bad thing – quite the opposite. The transition to bots is inevitable, and we heard from many companies who are already well underway with the technology.

However, my concern is that, although I’ve heard a lot from the contact center audience, I haven’t heard a thing on this topic from CX. That introduces a risk that the technology could be implemented without the content of the overall customer experience. And we know that when you optimize a piece of the journey in isolation, it tends to introduce problems elsewhere.

But bots aren’t reserved to the contact center, and two of my favorite presentations discussed alternate uses that are quite intriguing.

Carla Zuniga of Allstate presented an interesting case where their bots are used to educate their agents. The agent training is supported with a bot who can answer many of their questions about policies, allowing these agents to feel supported by Allstate.

Even more intriguing was Brian Cobb, the Chief Innovation Officer from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. You may not think that airports and innovation are a natural fit, but you’d be wrong. He shared examples of how they’re using bots to streamline the customer experience, providing reassurance to otherwise-stressed travelers. For example, their train is built on 30-year-old technology, which wouldn’t usually allow for easy communication to travelers. Rather than retrofitting the entire train, they used bots to track the train’s progress, communicating to video screens the location and next arrival.

Another great example was bathroom cleaning schedules. Most airports set cleaning schedules on a regular basis. But customers don’t come on that regular basis – they tend to come in big waves, as planes land and take off. So their airport uses sensors and bots to measure bathroom traffic and then send alerts to maintenance once a critical threshold is reached. This allows them to offer more-targeted cleaning without adding staff. You can learn more examples of their work here.

Even better for frequent travelers such as myself, the airport’s use of technology has reduced TSA wait times while increasing traffic by 50%.

Bots, AI and Machine Learning have tremendous capability to improve the customer experience. But I don’t hear us in CX talking about it. It’s time for that to change.

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