Why Chatbots Need to Prioritize the Full Customer Support Journey

		 		Chatbot conversation

What’s worse than waiting in a customer service line and repeatedly getting the “all agents are busy but please continue to hold and thanks for your patience” message? Not being able to get in that line in the first place.

The Australian telecoms company Telstra came under fire recently after launching their virtual assistant support chatbot named Codi. The bot not only failed to answer simple questions but also seemed to block customers from connecting with a human agent when it became clear the bot couldn’t help.

Customers took to Twitter to pour out their frustration, calling the chatbot a “virtual moron-idiot” and “the worst idea in the history of customer support.” Publications from The Sydney Morning Herald to Business Insider Australia to the Daily Mail Australia reported the story, quickly bringing it to international attention.

After reading these articles, it’s easy to assume that chatbots are the problem, adding one more layer between a customer and the company they’re trying to reach. But chatbots are not the root cause of Telstra’s customer dissatisfaction. There’s something else at play here.

What Telstra’s efforts actually teach us is that chatbots are powerful tools, which means that any company employing them needs to pay close attention to how they’re used.

What we’ve learned at Ada is that chatbots can only meet customer needs and improve the support experience if a company keeps the full customer journey in mind when designing their bot experience. What happens when a customer has a more complex problem that requires a human solution? When it’s clear the customer needs further assistance, does the chatbot know to offer alternative channels (phone, email, etc.)? What frustrated Telstra customers was not the presence of a support chatbot but being unable to access full-service channels when their problem wasn’t solved through self-service.

Automated phone support is capable of the same errors as Codi. It can route customers through a maze of automated options without easy access to a human agent. The same goes for an email form that keeps suggesting different FAQ articles, rather than letting you submit a request for support.

In both cases, a company is trying to use self-service technology to answer all inquiries, rather than making sure customers get the help they need: first through self-service and then, if necessary, through other escalated channels.

The real moral of the Telstra story is that self-service technology (i.e. a chatbot) has to be built and monitored with the full customer journey in mind. Otherwise, that new channel won’t improve the customer experience. It will diminish it. Creating a seamless experience, from one channel to the next, has to be the number one goal.

By focusing on the customer journey, any company can use powerful tools like chatbots to build bridges, not blockades, for their customers.

Cover photo by RAMPrt/Shutterstock.com

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