Do SMBs and startups need AI for Customer Support?

Written by Can Ozdoruk  on   May 15, 2019

Yes. Here’s why companies – regardless of size –  can’t afford to de-prioritize the customer experience. 

For the first time ever, brand love is not reserved for the companies that have category dominance, the deepest pockets or the widest distribution channels. Brand love is built on customer experience.

Startups and smaller companies can now compete with the behemoths of their industry thanks to readily available global distribution channels, online and social awareness, product ingenuity and the end-to-end customer experience.

Until recently, large companies have made little effort to improve their customer service, comfortable with the global status quo of frustrating, fragmented, inconvenient support that proliferated in nearly every industry. Offering support on limited channels and hours, keeping customers on hold for long periods of time (which added up to 43 days in a person’s life), unpleasant and rude representatives, and lack of personalization or recognition of who a person was, their history and loyalty to a brand was expected. Companies didn’t have to improve their support, because no one else was. It was universally terrible.

Something changed, though. Companies started to emerge that prioritized how they treated their customers. One of the first examples I can think of in my own experience was Zappos. A company that, when I was told about the brand, I was told in the same sentence that their customer service is phenomenal. Zappos, and more that would follow, were putting the customer first. Offering friendly, convenient support on customers terms. It was refreshing.

After getting a taste of what customer support could be, customer expectations started to quickly rise. The status quo was no longer acceptable. This quick change in the tide of customer expectations, and a lag in established companies addressing these new demands, has led to companies losing $62 billion per year due to poor customer service. This is staggering. 

Customer service is now a core business driver and a huge opportunity for startups and SMBs to establish dominance and build long-term, profitable relationships with customers. Established companies are racing to implement more automation, personalization, channel-less and on-demand customer service, and emerging companies can’t afford to ignore their support function. SMBs and startups need to invest in technologies that can turn customer support into a competitive edge.

As you think about customer service, consider the expectations for customers that you must meet to compete:

  • Channel-less: Offer support across every channel, including customer support email, social messaging and website chat
  • Personalized: Tailored to the individual, real-time context, sentiment and history with the brand
  • Instantaneous: Quick, high-quality resolutions
  • On-demand: 24/7 support to issues on their terms
  • Friendly: Pleasant interactions with human or virtual agents
  • Consistent: Issues need to be resolved consistently, every time
  • Proactive: Reacting to incoming tickets is not enough; Anticipate needs to solve problems before they even exist

Without deploying AI customer support into your workforce, it’s incredibly expensive and difficult to meet these rising demands. AI can be used for customer service automation resolutions to everyday tickets reserving human agents to focus on complex and unique customer needs. When leveraged correctly, AI can reduce customer service costs by up to 30 percent.

Interested in learning more? Let’s chat.

For more information on customer support, click here.

How to Write Copy for Your Conversational AI

Written by Emily Cummins  on   May 9, 2019

Best Practices for Creating a Meaningful and Engaging Automated Customer Service Experience with Conversational Design

Advertising copy packs a punch. Online self-help wikis and FAQs offer factual explanations. Conversational AI copy is somewhere in between… and therein lies the challenge of doing good conversational design.

Creating copy for a customer service AI is different than what your company has created in the past. It’s not just about being creative and striking an emotional chord as it needs to answer your customer’s questions quickly. It also needs to engage your customer in a conversation and not be robotic, simply serving up long-form content. It’s a delicate balance.

Here are our best practices to keep in mind as you embark on conversational design for your customer service AI:

1. Keep It Simple

Use short, concise sentences. Long-form paragraphs are hard to read in a chat interface.  If you need to provide a lot of information, break it up into multiple messages. Focus on keeping the character count in each message low.  Just think about how you text your friends; it’s likely done using a few words, in short bursts.

2. Ask Questions

While the majority of the company and consumer interaction is one-way (ads, email marketing, website, etc.), conversational AI needs to be two-way. Ask customers for input in order to serve up only the most relevant content (this also helps to keep messages short). For example, if your return policy varies based on whether a product is personalized or not, ask your customer if they have a customized product before giving up your lengthy policy.

  • Example 1:
    • Customer – Can I return a pillow that I just purchased?
    • AI Agent – Was your pillow personalized with a name or initials?
    • Customer – No
    • AI Agent – We accept returns within 30 days of purchase. Please bring the item into any retail store.
  • Example 2:  
    • Customer – Can I return a pillow that I just purchased?
    • AI Agent – You can return non-personalized items within 30 days of purchase at any retail store. We cannot accept returns for products that have been personalized.

As you can see, in the first example, the AI asks a simple question in order to serve up only the most relevant content. In Example 2, the AI responds with a lengthy message on the full return policy, only half of which is relevant to the customer.

In some instances, it doesn’t make sense to ask questions and you don’t want to prolong the time it takes to deliver the information your customer is seeking, but in the right circumstances, this can add a nice conversational element to your experience.  

3. Use Interjections in Your Conversational Design

Another way to make the experience less robotic is to acknowledge things that a customer says before moving on. Deploy interjections throughout your conversational design plan like “Thanks for the info”, “I see”,  “Understood”, “Got it”, etc. can make the experience much more human-like.

4. Be Empathetic

An AI can be trained through conversational design to be empathetic, triggered by specific words, use cases, and customer sentiment. While an FAQ related to a package that is delayed might simply state how a person should proceed, an AI Agent could first offer up an apology acknowledging that the customer is likely frustrated. A simpleI’m sorry that you’re still waiting on your order. Let’s find out what’s going on…” can go a long way.

Identify the scenarios in which a person might be frustrated/unhappy and craft copy that acknowledges their feelings. This can also help you decide which instances should be better handled by a human agent. If you sell baby strollers, you can anticipate that a customer is going to be very upset if their child was hurt or in danger while riding in your product. Instead of providing refund or warranty information via the AI, elevate to a human right away and say something like…

We’re so sorry that you experienced this. As safety is our top priority, I’m going to have one of our human agents assist you in this serious matter.”

5. Inject a Personality 

Always stay true to your brand and tone of voice, and give your AI a personality. Train your AI to engage in small talk and be witty (at the right times), but never at the expense of providing the information that consumers seek quickly. Be prepared to do things like telling a Joke (you’d be surprised how often AI agents are asked to do this), solve a simple math problem or respond to an invitation to go on a date. Have fun with it, but always bring it back to the core purpose.

“I’m not allowed to date until I’m 16. I can, however, assist you with any of these issues…”

Related to personality is naming your AI. Some brands opt to give their AI a name like Bank of America’s Erica or WestJet’s Juliet, while others opt to refer to an AI as a virtual assistant. We’ve seen both approaches work brilliantly. We highly recommend, however, never trying to pass an AI Agent off as a human agent.  

6. Think Beyond Text in Your Conversational Design

If it aligns with your brand, think about sprinkling emojis, images, GIFs and other content into the conversation. Emojis are today’s digital language and can make a nice addition to a response. See here:

  • Your order is on its way.
  • Your order is on its way 🙌

7. Use Contractions and Minimalistic Punctuation

The conversational interface provides the opportunity to be more casual. AI Agents should use contractions like “Let’s see what I can do” or “Don’t worry. We’ll figure this out together.” This is much easier and more natural to read in a chat. 

Furthermore, don’t go overboard on punctuation; it can be used minimally. If you’re answering a question in a few precise words, you don’t necessarily need to add a period in the end. Also, limit the number of exclamations your agent uses. (Just imagine getting this message – Happy to help!! Let me know how else I can assist you today!!)

8. Be Upfront with Capabilities

 While AI is becoming more prevalent in customer service, many of your customers might be engaging with a virtual agent for the first time. Briefly educate them on the best way to ask questions (be concise). Additionally, make sure to let customers know how an AI can help as well as how they can get in touch with a human. Transparency is critical to minimize frustration.

Creating conversational copy for AI-powered customer support requires a different approach from writing FAQ or agent training manuals, as well as from creative marketing content. Don’t get caught up in trying to be too creative at the expense of not resolving tickets quickly, but also understand that conversational AI is a new interface that should be engaging. Have fun with it!

Thinking about launching an AI-powered customer service? Let us help. We have copywriters on staff to help you design interactions that are both meaningful and engaging.

With AI in Customer Service, the Biggest Payback Could Be Time

Written by Emily Cummins  on   May 7, 2019

When it comes to understanding the helpdesk AI benefits to customer service, William Penn eloquently nails it. “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

Time is a commodity that we all need more of. Something that we all hate to waste – especially if it’s spent doing something like contacting a company to resolve an issue that’s been frustrating enough to encounter in the first place. When we hear stats like we spend 43 days on hold for customer service in our lifetime and 86% of customers have to contact customer service multiple times for the same reason, it’s clear that the status quo is ripe for disruption.

“Time is not the main thing. It’s the only thing.” – Miles Davis 

Customers Are Valuing Their Time More Than Ever

Modern customers are used to instantaneous gratification. They walk around with supercomputers in their pockets that can tell them breaking news from around the world, how to avoid a traffic accident that happened one minute before, or let them share a picture of the innovative cocktail the bartender concocted for them with friends and see likes tick up in a matter of seconds. They expect quick. Anything outside of instantaneous is jarring.

Imagine sending a company a question on Facebook and having to wait over 12 hours for a response (which is the average response time). This is unacceptable in your customers’ minds. According to Forrester, 66% of US online adults said that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer experience. Time, not necessarily a favorable outcome or a pleasant representative (both, of course, are also important). But it’s getting time back to go back to whatever it was they were doing before that is the driving factor to what is considered good service.  

Looking to maximize your CX? Discover what platform may be best for you in our comparison of Intercom vs. Zendesk.

Customer Service Agents, Too, Are Desperate For Time

It’s not just customers who need time back. Agents, too, are inundated with tickets they need to manage and lack the necessary customer service tools and real-time information to adequately address many tickets. Agents report that they often have many windows open simultaneously, yet still more than half almost never or only occasionally have the context they need to most effectively and efficiently solve issues [Microsoft]. This results in rerouting customers to other agents with the right context (which leads to 83% of consumers having to repeat the same information to multiple agents), delayed resolutions and diminished CSAT which weighs negatively on employee satisfaction and morale.

How AI Benefits Time By Giving Back To Both Customers And Agents 

The AI benefits of giving back time are multifaceted:

  • AI can be deployed to respond immediately (i.e. less than one second)  to the everyday customer support tickets, providing customers with the instant gratification that they crave for over 50% of their queries.
  • Automated customer service integrations, such as Zoho chatbot, save agents time from managing mundane, repeatable issues, and focus on more high-touch customer needs. 
  • For agent-managed issues, AI pulls relevant information from business systems and clarifies information with the customer before an agent ever gets involved. Agents no longer have to open multiple windows to gather information from other databases which delay the resolution but rather can quickly review and act on the data provided from an AI.

Are you ready to give time back to your customers and agents using a chatbot platform? Let’s chat. 

For more information on AI and customer service, visit: