In the lingering aftermath of the pandemic, business-consumer communication is being pulled in two seemingly opposing directions. On the one hand, consumers demand businesses to satisfy their ever-growing need for speed—urgency waits for no one. On the other hand, they crave personalization and human touch.
In response, business automation has become, more than ever before, the heart of today’s customer support, success, and overall experience. It represents the only sustainable and scalable way for companies to keep up with consumers and still grow. However, automating processes without a proper strategy or simply going over the top steps on the toes of the coveted human touch and individual approach. Hence, while businesses no longer question whether or not to automate, they turn their focus towards learning how to do it without negatively affecting the quality of their services.
In that spirit, this article explores the WHAT, WHY, and HOW of achieving the right balance between manual involvement and automation.
The Brief History of Communication Automation AKA Where We are Today
The history of communication automation in business has seen a significant evolution, from the introduction of email in the 1970s to the widespread use of messaging apps today.
Email was one of the first forms of electronic communication to arrive on the scene. It allowed for quick and easy communication between individuals, and eventually, email became the standard for business communication. However, email was limited in terms of its automation capabilities, and it required human intervention to send, receive, and respond to messages.
The subsequent major development in communication automation came with the introduction of customer relationship management (CRM) systems in the 1990s. These systems allowed businesses to automate customer interactions, including email marketing campaigns and customer service inquiries. This enabled businesses to reach a wider audience and respond to customer inquiries more efficiently.
However, with the advent of instant messaging and chatbots, communication automation in business has taken on a whole new level of sophistication. Messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Slack have become popular platforms for business communication, allowing for real-time interactions and instant feedback. Live chat support was soon enriched with chatbots largely developed to automate certain types of customer interactions, such as answering frequently asked questions or processing orders.
In recent years, artificial intelligence and machine learning have also been integrated into communication automation, enabling businesses to analyze customer data and, to a certain extent, automate personalized messaging. The recent launch of GPT-3 and GPT-4 by OpenAI only streamlined AI adoption in chat solutions.
All in all, communication automation has evolved significantly over the years, from simple email systems to sophisticated messaging and AI-driven tools. And, as technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more automation and innovation in this area.
The question is can and will companies manage to balance user experiences?
Trends and Traps of Communication Automation in Chat
Indeed, communication automation nowadays revolves around capturing the convenience and instant gratification offered by chatting, texting, and messaging, which consumers experience in their personal lives.
To be able to supply these experiences, businesses deploy live chat and/or chatbot services on the web and messaging apps. While both communication solutions are based on real-time typed text exchange, live chat involves speaking with a human agent. On the other hand, a chatbot conversation is an interaction between a human customer and chatbot software. Chatbots and live chat alike can take place on the web or via messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Telegram.
Both live chat and chatbot are popular tools for providing customer support, but they have their own pros and cons.
See below for a brief overview.
Pros of Using Live Chat
- Personalized customer experience: Live chat enables businesses to provide personalized support to customers in real time. Naturally, this can help to build a strong relationship with customers and increase their satisfaction with the company.
- Human touch: Live chat offers the human touch that chatbots often lack. It allows customers to talk to a real person who can empathize with their problems and provide personalized solutions.
- Flexibility: Live chat allows agents to handle a wide range of customer issues, from technical problems to billing inquiries. They can quickly switch between different issues and provide customized solutions to each customer.
Cons of Using Live Chat
- Limited availability: Live chat support is likely only available during certain hours of the day, which can be a drawback for customers who need help outside of business hours.
- Cost: Live chat requires a team of trained agents to be available to provide support, which can be expensive for businesses, especially if they operate in multiple time zones.
- Wait times: Live chat queues can sometimes be long, which can lead to frustration for customers.
Pros of Using Chatbots
- 24/7 availability: Bots can provide support to customers around the clock, which can be a huge advantage for businesses with customers all over the world—in different time zones.
- Speed: Chatbots can provide quick responses to common customer inquiries, which can help to reduce wait times and improve customer satisfaction.
- Cost-effective: Chatbots are generally more cost-effective than live chat, as they don't require a team of agents to provide support. Especially so, since no-code and low-code tools like Landbot lowered the bot development times and costs.
Cons of Using Chatbots
- Lack of personalization: Chatbots lack the human touch that live chat provides. They may not be able to understand the nuances of a customer's problem or provide personalized solutions.
- Limited functionality: Chatbots are designed to handle only specific types of inquiries and may not be able to handle complex issues or provide customized solutions.
- Complexity: Depending on the type of solution you are after, developing and implementing chatbots can be a complex process and may require a team of developers and IT specialists.
Both live chat and chatbots have their own ups and downs. The secret to success often lies in combining the best features of both. Chatbots and agents can work side by side if done correctly, splitting the workflow to their advantage.
For example, the State of Customer Service Report by Helpshift surveyed agents and chatbots working in sync. While the number of messages handled by bots more than doubled in peak months, the number of messages handled by human agents remained roughly the same:
In peak months, what truly increased were routine inquiries. Without chatbots, the customer support teams would have been overwhelmed, and the service quality would have suffered. Thanks to combining the two solutions, complex queries were forwarded to live chat agents who had time to deal with them, thanks to bots taking care of the rest.
The same report clearly demonstrates that the combination of bots and life agents results in more streamlined issue resolution processes, ultimately leading to the highest levels of customer satisfaction (CSAT). In fact, when comparing CSAT levels across three different types of interactions (bot-only, agent-only, and agent+bot), the “agent+bot” combination consistently achieves the highest satisfaction rates. Allowing bots to handle initial interactions and agents to take over the more complex queries as needed is a recipe for success.
How to Balance Chatbot & Live Chat for Optimal Customer Experience
The first step toward efficient customer communication is to review your customer support and success workflow with your team. Where would both your customers and employees benefit from automation? Where and when is human assistance actually needed?
Identify frequently asked questions, and arising issues
Automation should predominantly touch queries and processes that are repetitive and don’t offer much space for doubt or speculation. Consider the types of queries your customers usually have and create a flow chart to help identify the ones that can be handled by a chatbot and the ones that require human assistance.
Train your chatbot using your FAQ data set
If you are to avoid frustrating your customers, your chatbot needs to be well trained and have the ability to handle a wide range of queries. The chatbot should be programmed to provide accurate and relevant responses to customers.
If you are building a rule-based chatbot, you need to ensure that the structure is intuitive and allows users to get to the answer with just a few click (choices).
You can also go down the AI route without prolonging the development time or upping the complexity way too much. Thanks to ChatGPT, building an FAQ AI bot can be quite swift as well. All you need is an FAQ website page or Knowledge Base. By integrating GPT-3 into your bot, when a customer poses a question that is already documented, the bot will scan the content and provide a concise summary rather than simply sharing links to the answers. This mimics the behavior of a human agent.
Provide an easy transition from chatbot to a human agent
The next important step is to make it easy for customers to switch between chatbot and live chat. This can be done by providing clear and visible options to connect with a live agent if needed or by training your chatbot to manage the bot-to-human handoff when requested.
You can also provide another level of automation to help agents work through the transferred queries more quickly. When customers request human agent support, you can have the bot ask a series of screening questions, so the agents have a basic grasp of the situation and can proceed to resolution more quickly.
Monitor and analyze customer interactions & continuously improve
The last but not least secret to optimized customer experience is monitoring and continual improvement. It’s key that you monitor and analyze customer interactions to identify areas where the chatbot can be improved, and where live chat can be used more effectively. This will help you optimize the customer experience and improve overall satisfaction.
Channel Matters: Why Opt for Messaging over Other Channels?
The journey to optimal customer experience doesn’t end with balancing chatbot and live chat. The channel you choose to serve your customers matters as much as the right amount of automation.
The aforementioned report by Helpshift also looked at customer relationships and attitudes toward individual channels. According to their data, messaging channels like WhatsApp only reached 2nd lowest Time to First Response (TTFR) and 2nd lowest Time to Resolution (TTR). So, despite not being the fastest, messaging got the highest average CSAT (4.1 out of 5) of all channels.
Why is that?
Being mindful of the customer’s time is more important than speed.
Companies can achieve this balance by tapping into bot-powered asynchronous messaging, where customers are not kept waiting on hold.
Messaging channels like WhatsApp are popular for several reasons, including speed, the ability to support real-time conversations, AND convenience. Messaging allows people to communicate on their own terms without needing immediate responses or lengthy conversations. Hence, users can jump in and out of chat without losing the conversation thread at their convenience.
Additionally, messaging platforms often support multimedia content like photos, videos, and voice messages, which can enhance the communication experience as many issues are easier shown than described.
Chatbot vs. Live Chat: Balance is Key
At Landbot, we feel strongly about striking the right balance.
Don’t think of chatbot vs. live chat as a fight but as a collaboration.
Each communication method has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Combining them allows you to highlight the strengths and minimize those weaknesses. In addition, using the right messaging channel, be it WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, or Telegram, can only enhance that experience.
Employ chatbots in the front line of your communication strategy. Let them work as the buffer, the sieve that catches all the routine questions and unqualified leads letting your team focus on prospects and queries that can make a genuine difference!
- Automate routines and repetitive actions;
- Don’t make your agents hard to find;
- Leverage the asynchronicity of messaging apps to take pressure off speed requirements and focus on efficiency instead.