Natural Language Processing (NLP) powered chatbots have fundamentally changed online customer service over the past half decade or so, providing always-available support to customers and saving companies as much as 30% on their customer service costs. But there are some challenges posed by traditional chatbots that intelligent avatars can help overcome. We’ve got 14 keys you should consider when planning to use chatbots for your site.

THE CHATBOT ADVANTAGE

How Chatbots Help Customer Service

1) 24/7 Availability
By being available 24/7, chatbots can help your customers find answers outside your support hours, keeping customers happier and accommodating users who can’t call you during your support window. This opportunity to service customers at any time leads to a reduction in annoyance (everyone knows how frustrating it is to have to “call back in the morning” when reaching a dead end on an IVR). This increased availability of customer service – especially during a pandemic that makes many kinds of customer service much more challenging – is crucial to keep customers satisfied.

2) Contact Center Deflection
According to Chatbots magazine, chatbots can automate 30% or more of the tasks of a traditional call center. This significantly reduces staffing needs and decreases contact center seat license costs. Additionally, more of the calls that make it through to your contact center are ones that can benefit from human intervention, making sure your best agents are available to take calls that customers really need them to handle.

3) Better Use the Content You Already Have
We see it all the time – companies who have all of the information you could ever need (ok, MOST of it, at least) already on their websites. But customers aren’t finding it.

Even with the best UX design, the fact is many customers won’t be able to find detailed information buried deep in your site quickly and without frustration. The best site search falls short if the person doing the searching isn’t adept at forming their queries in the best way possible.

When you introduce chatbots and conversation into the scenario, customer intents can be determined readily, and it becomes much easier for the user to be directed to the information they seek. In addition, the conversation data from the chatbot can provide critical feedback data on what customers are looking for and what they are – and aren’t – finding in response to their queries. Which helps you build more intuitive websites!

4) Continuous Improvement
The feedback loop by being able to monitor conversation flows with real customers can provide qualitative data to look into exactly how visitors are using the site and interacting with your chatbot. Chatbots can also provide quantitative information about how well your bot’s responses are (or aren’t) matching up with customer inquiries.

This constant feedback loop means you can continually train your chatbot’s conversation data to better respond to questions that might not have previously had a good answer and to add content responsive to customer inquiries that might not have yielded a match their first time visiting. This continuous improvement makes your chatbot smarter and your customers more satisfied.

5) Business Intelligence
Are people who ask a particular question about your products more or less likely to make a purchase? Do visitors who need information about their account balance end up transacting more or less often? When visitors ask about particular symptoms, does that mean they might need a follow-up call to head off a condition worsening? What “hidden” behaviors are your customers exhibiting that could be clues to their future behavior or hints to how you should be helping them?

By combining the data from chatbot conversations with conversion or attribution data on your site (or with your back-end products), you can better understand how to identify customers who are likely to purchase or upgrade – or those in need of more assistance. You can be more responsive to customer needs and anticipate who might need earlier intervention for better outcomes.

THE CHATBOT CHALLENGES

But using chatbots that are solely text-based can lead to some shortcomings that inhibit the successes you could potentially achieve.

1) Typing / Text can be a challenge for some users
For many users, relying on typing and reading can be a challenge, especially if they’re on a mobile device. In addition, for customers who find typing a challenge, the process of entering a question could be too time consuming and frustrating for them to find the information they’re seeking in a satisfying manner. No matter how good your chatbot is, if it leaves your customer somehow feeling inadequate, they won’t have a positive impression of working with you.

2) Chatbots can be cold or impersonal when a customer needs a kind ear
We’ve ALL run into issues in text messages or emails where the mood we wanted to convey was misinterpreted by the recipient. You might intend to send a warm, empathetic message to a friend, but they miss that and instead feel more alienated than supported. That’s simply a limitation to text communications that sometimes even the best of writers can’t overcome.

Humans largely rely on other senses to understand the emotional context of their communications. Vocal tones, facial expressions, body language, and other subtle elements go a long way to make sure the information that’s being conveyed is received with the correct understanding of the communicator’s intent. Text alone that fails to convey the right context can alienate customers, or worse yet, leave them feeling offended or angry.

3) Chatbots can seem separate from your site or your brand
A box with your logo in the bottom corner of your website can be an effective tool to seemingly “talk” to the site. But with the proliferation of chatbots, many of them using similar, familiar platforms, it can be increasingly difficult to reinforce that a customer’s chatbot conversation is with YOU and YOUR BRAND. A lot of brands have taken to giving their chatbots a name to convey a level of familiarity and friendliness. But unless there’s more to reinforce your brand, customers can start to feel like they’re talking to the chatbot provider and not to you.

4) Text-only chatbots assume there’s only one way your user prefers to communicate
Anyone who’s been in the marketing world for longer than a few years knows how much we’ve learned and how far we’ve come in understanding the importance of a customer’s choice in how brands communicate with them. Some people love a phone call, while for others, “phone” is just an app on their mobile device that they never use. For some, texts are a perfect way to remind busy customers of important information, while for others, they’re an annoying intrusion into their lives.

When we force customers into a single way of communicating with us, we are subtly telling them that how we talk to them is a matter of our convenience and not theirs. That’s not an ingredient for a long-term happy customer. So, if you’ve made it difficult to find a phone number on your site or have business-hours-only phone support, and then give your customers only the option of communicating with a chatbot using text, you could be adding frustration rather than reducing it.

THE AVATAR SOLUTION

How Intelligent Avatars Overcome Chatbot Shortcomings

All is not lost, though, in leveraging chatbots to improve customer satisfaction. Intelligent avatars can simply and effectively overcome most chatbot shortcomings to deliver a great customer experience and still deliver all of the benefits of a chatbot.

1) Empathy
Human communication takes place on multiple levels. With avatars capable of nuanced voices, facial expressions, gestures, and body language, the words you want to convey to your customers can be brought to life with the full emotional context of how you want them delivered. A message that might be frustrating or even worrisome when presented as text can be delivered in a way that allays concerns and shows empathy to a customer. A positive piece of information can be conveyed excitedly to strengthen the emotional tie the user has with the information. Using many of the tools that humans do to communicate makes for a better customer experience and engagement.

There is a risk, however, with just assuming any “human” or anthropomorphized character will automatically deliver the ease and comfort this type of communication is capable of delivering. Care MUST be taken to avoid “the uncanny valley” (learn more about the uncanny valley here), that creepy feeling people get when a non-human character looks too human. And characters that merely move their heads around a bit while lip synching to voice can look more like the 1980s Max Headroom character or a skit from Conan O’Brien than a character with whom a customer can relate. Empathy is key, but it takes more than just a “talking head.”

Additionally, a key to empathy is ensuring that biases (which can be reinforced by AI-powered NLP systems) are prevented or removed. Characters should be reflective of the diversity of a customer base and information provided must cater to all audiences served. Our chat analytics and business intelligence capabilities can assist in identifying biases and eliminating them in characters and conversations.

2) Visual Engagement
For sighted individuals, the human brain processes images 60,000x faster than text, and 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual. Engaging customers visually allows them to more quickly understand the context and content of the information being given to them. A smiling avatar answering a customer’s question let’s him or her know that the information is positive or beneficial nearly instantaneously when that message begins. The subtle added messages communicated visually enhance the customer’s understanding of, and engagement with, the content.

3) Accessibility
While the visual engagement afforded by an intelligent avatar is very useful for some users, for visually impaired users, those cues have little value. However, the speech-to-text and text-to-speech capabilities of the avatars mean that those who are visually impaired or have challenges with reading or typing, still have a valid and empathetic way to communicate with the avatar, and by extension with you. Customers with hearing impairments can still see the content in text form on the screen as the avatar speaks.

Additionally, our avatars are optimized for tab completion to allow customers using adaptive devices to access your avatar chat content, and written transcripts of the entire interaction are available for your customers to keep for future reference.

4) Customer Choice
Just as we know that limiting customer choice in communication preferences can be frustrating or off-putting, we also know that giving the customer control over those choices make for higher levels of satisfaction. Customers can type their inputs into the avatar’s chat window, or they can use the microphone to speak directly to her. The avatar is able to be muted for individuals in settings where sound is inappropriate or if they prefer to use text only. Giving the customer control allows for more receptiveness and better outcomes and satisfaction.

5) Branding Reinforcement
You likely spend a lot of time and money creating and sustaining your brand identity. Customizing an avatar’s physical characteristics, clothing, and voice, as well as the interface used on your site, gives you the tools you need to make sure customers are clear that when they’re using your intelligent avatar, they’re talking to your company. That strengthens the brand relationships and differentiates you from the brands offering look-alike chatbot solutions.

CONCLUSION

Using any type of chat technology can be the first and easiest way a company can enter into the “Artificial Intelligence” fray. But beyond just adopting the technology to seem relevant, a chatbot, and most importantly, an intelligent avatar, can save a company money while improving its relationships with its customers.

Are you considering adding a chatbot to your site? Or do you have a text-based chatbot now and want to learn more about how an intelligent avatar can improve your customer satisfaction and outcomes? Contact us using the form below to find out how we can help you maximize your customer service. Or check out a demo of our Avatars in action.