Chatbots in the Contact Center, Part 2: Internal Use and Adoption

FROM THE MARCH 2019 ISSUE

Chatbots in the Contact Center
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Consumers are increasingly turning to virtual assistants to save time and effort in their personal lives. Similarly, chatbot technology offers considerable benefits internally to assist agents in delivering quick, accurate responses to customers, as well as streamlining followup tasks, communications, scheduling and HR requests.

In Part 1 of this series, our experts discussed typical applications for chatbots in the contact center, and cleared up some common misconceptions about chatbot capabilities. In this post, they provide insights about how chatbots can be used internally to support agents, and offer advice on how to prepare for chatbot adoption.

The experts who participated in this Q&A series are: Chris Connolly, Vice President Product Marketing, Genesys; Emma Furlong, Lead Content Strategist, Clinc; Dave Hoekstra, WFM Evangelist, Teleopti; Scott Kolman, VP of Product & Corporate Marketing, Five9; Alok Kulkarni, CEO, Cyara; Jen Snell, VP of Product Marketing for Intelligent Self-Service, Verint; Shellie Vornhagen, SVP Marketing and North American Sales, Astute; and Charly Walther, VP of Product and Growth, Gengo.ai.


How are companies using chatbots internally to support employees?

CHRIS CONNOLLY: Chatbots are beginning to be deployed for internal organizational requests such as facilities management, employee guidance and, most significantly, we’ve seen a strong uptick in organizations reaching out to Genesys to understand the assistive bot technologies within a given agent’s desktop. The number of inquiries has risen along with the level of sophistication of questions from customers. We now find that educated customers are coming to us with practical implementation questions whereas, just six months ago, the inquiries were more orientated toward future visions.

EMMA FURLONG: There are several different use cases for internal chatbots but they all boil down to giving employees quicker access to information or helping them achieve solutions more efficiently for their customers.

DAVE HOEKSTRA: The spotlight is often on how chatbots can enhance customer communication and experiences, but they also have the potential to deliver great internal value to an organization by offering timely, effective support to employees. Chatbots can come in both as a form of colleague to employees and as an extra channel for the company, getting the right information out to relevant employees, at the right time. For example, with workforce planning processes, chatbots could send direct messages to employees about the upcoming possibility of overtime hours or time off that they can choose to take. This creates an efficient but friendly dialogue with the employee, offering them greater options over their working time, while empowering the company with more flexibility and transparency for real-time operations.

JEN SNELL: Companies are using chatbots to support both primary and non-primary job duties. For example, integrated chatbots to support Human Resources or IT Helpdesk, assist employees with getting the personalized information they need instantly. Instead of searching for PTO or business policies, employees can simply ask the chatbot or Intelligent Virtual Assistant; which will provide them with the exact answer they need. Chatbots are also being deployed as a resource assistant, supporting and assisting employees throughout their day.


What should contact centers do to prepare for chatbot adoption?

CHRIS CONNOLLY: We suggest forging alliances among key business stakeholders that are jointly responsible for the customer journey. Specifically, we advocate for contact center executives to reach out to sales and marketing colleagues to start a conversation about the important role the contact center has in closing and retaining customers, along with the enormous amount of useful customer data that marketing and sales teams may not know about. For example, interaction analytics have been proven to provide a rich set of real-time insights about marketing campaigns as well as sales insights. Additionally, and more tactically, we recommend that contact center operations consider a centralized knowledge management function and toolset that can be leveraged by voice and chatbot technologies to help accelerate adoption and ensure a baseline set of content for such projects.

EMMA FURLONG: The best thing a contact center can do to prepare for chatbot adoption is to select a full-service conversational AI platform provider that handles everything from data curation and collection, to performance metrics and analytics. From the customer communications perspective, it’s important to demonstrate the value of the chat technology being implemented, and make it clear to customers where and how to access the chatbot.

DAVE HOEKSTRA: Before an organization can utilize a chatbot, a deep understanding of the decision-making process is required.  Mapping out how decisions are made is a great exercise for a contact center in general but can also significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to leverage chatbot technology. Equally, like any software deployment or operational change, all employees that will use a chatbot by their side or directly interact with it for answers should be properly onboarded, rather than thrown in at the deep end.

SCOTT KOLMAN: A key first step is to understand what the customer is trying to achieve when engaging with the business, then determine the best way to handle. How do they prefer to communicate with your business? What is the intent of the interaction, and is this a reasonable candidate for a chatbot or is it better to have the customer engage directly with an agent? For example, if the customer is looking to find out the status of an outstanding order, you might want to handle the interaction from a chatbot. Conversely, if they are calling you to make a major purchase, or cancel their service, it may be best to have them engage with an agent specifically skilled to address that issue. Key to all of this is to provide a seamless transition from the chatbot to an agent—should the need arise. Make sure that the transcription of the interaction is made available to the agent, along with guidance on how to move the interaction forward to satisfactory conclusion.

ALOK KULKARNI: Chatbots have actually become one of the most important ambassadors for your brand, so they should be designed for continuous improvement. This means your business and technical teams will need to embrace techniques that foster and enable rapid innovation—and there are two key ways to enable that.

First, your business team must very specifically define the specific customer intents your chatbot will handle. While this may be painstaking work, this step is critical for then designing training and testing protocols to ensure that it meets those requirements.

Second, in order to plan for continuous evolution of your chatbot’s capabilities, turn to an Agile/DevOps approach. This will yield tremendous efficiency benefits by enabling an iterative process supports frequent feature and capability updates. Here’s a tip from one of our customers: Start small. Take a service you’ve already automated and recreate that service in a chatbot interface. This gives you a clear, simple use case—one that you know can be automated—to learn from and work out the kinks.

JEN SNELL: The real secret to adopting chatbots and IVAs isn’t technological; it’s cultural and philosophical. In traditional IT cultures, resource planning was based around the notion of completing one project and moving on to the next. In contrast, AI-powered technologies such as IVAs and Chatbots are predicated on the notion of continuous improvement through a combination of machine learning and human oversight. To prepare, it’s most important to have long-term business and IT vision; clearly defined goals and a collaborative culture.

SHELLIE VORNHAGEN: A chatbot represents the contact center team’s opportunity to get front-and-center on your brand’s digital properties, so early and frequent collaboration with your web team (and app team, if applicable), is a must. Think about bringing together a crossfunctional team that will run point on the project, ensuring every phase runs smoothly.

Speaking of phases, it’s important to agree on phases for your chatbot deployment—which use cases will you address first? Which channels will you deploy? What will the bot be able to do right away, in six months, in a year? Asking these questions from the start of the project will set the stage for a successful chatbot.

It’s also important for contact centers to understand what is being automated and how that information ties into the knowledgebase. Not only does this encourage confidence in the chatbot, but it serves as a reminder that the chatbot and the knowledge from which it draws information are intrinsically tied.

Last but not least, don’t forget about escalation. Map out how the escalation process from chatbot to agent will work, including situations where you would want to proactively suggest the customer engage with a live agent.

CHARLY WALTHER: Since chatbots are designed to make communication easier, it’s absolutely critical that they have an excellent understanding of language. In particular, there’s one scenario that chatbot users are desperate to avoid: the situation where the chatbot might have the right answer to a question ready to go but is unable to deliver the information because it didn’t understand the way the customer phrased it. Almost every question you can think of has multiple variants, all of which your chatbot has to understand in order to perform effectively. Without due preparation, your chatbot can get stuck because the customer said, “Can I return this if I don’t like it?” rather than, “What’s your returns policy?”

To build an effective chatbot, it’s important to move away from thinking about one list of canonical question-and-answer pairings. Instead, your data should contain as many variations as possible of the questions you want the chatbot to answer. Gathering 20 variations of a single intent such as, “Tell me more about the returns policy,” will allow your chatbot to serve a much wider range of clients. It will also help it to learn the meaning of new phrases that it might encounter while serving your customers, thus building a more effective knowledge base.

A good place to start gathering these intents might be your existing customer records. Take a look at the different ways in which people ask the same question and try to incorporate them into your chatbot’s training dataset. This will give your chatbot a stronger foundation and make it a more valuable asset in the long term.

Read Part 3 of this series for advice on how to overcome customer reluctance to use chatbots and customer onboarding tips.

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