Web-based Chatbots are what usually comes to mind when we are talking about AI in customer support. Advances in modern-day AI, though, have made email bots the next frontier in customer support automation, enabling companies to meet expectations for fast and convenient omnichannel support.
Some consider email an archaic channel compared to Facebook Messenger, SMS and Live Chat. That said, email support remains the most popular digital channel for customer support with 54% of customers having used email for customer service last year. According to the Netomi Research Team findings, when an issue or question arises, 47% people prefer to contact a company for customer service over email.
By leveraging email bots, companies can reduce support costs, improve the customer experience and build long-term customer relationships. These are not auto-responders. Primitive auto-responders have been around for years. These systems have done little to actually provide value or help resolve a person’s issue. Instead, auto-responders may provide links to “helpful” resources but are unsatisfying and often considered annoying by customers.
In this post, we’re going to explore how email bots work, the customer experience that can be delivered through AI-powered email support and why support teams need to leverage AI on the email channel.
Can Bots Actually Send And Reply To Emails?
Chatbot vendors have been unwilling to point their technology at email because of the inherent complexities of the channel. On the email channel, most chatbots would provide poor customer experiences – unable to understand the intent of the customer. In comparison to email, chats are far simpler to parse. People typically keep chat messages short and focused. In contrast, email messages tend to be longer and complex and more importantly have more contexts and complexities. The latest advancements in Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning give AI systems the ability to comprehend the complex intent and nuanced meaning of email exchanges. With this new advancement, AI can respond directly to repetitive support emails or assist human agents in the background. Either way, email bots provide better customer experiences through faster resolutions to many questions.
Mature email bots like Netomi can handle a wide variety of how a person might ask a question, extract context, and reply sensitively and accurately to non-trivial questions like order status, returns, upgrades, order modifications and more. Email bots can now aggregate and insert key data elements into an intelligently crafted email template.
The email channel provides many benefits when it comes to training the AI as well. Email has a wide range of historical data upon which to learn – the building blocks of a great AI. It also allows for sufficient time to train and tune the algorithms and data models. Currently, customers don’t generally expect to interact with companies over email in real-time. This expected latency allows an AI email bot to become more accurate through reinforcement learning “behind the scenes”, – that is, drafting responses for agents to accept or edit, before ever actually interacting with a real customer. This type of “learning on the job” training is more difficult in other channels like chat where real-time interaction is the expectation.
What’s The Main Purpose Of Using An Email Bot For Customer Support?
The prominence of email as a support channel is not expected to waver at any time in the near future. Sending an email is convenient and fast. It’s easily accessible across all devices. There are no hold times. Customers are not held captive on a phone or computer, waiting for an agent or a response.
Companies have to do a better job of providing a positive experience on the email channel. Consumers want instant, personal and hyper-relevant resolutions to their problems. In our Customer Service Benchmark Report, we found that only 56% of retailers have an easy-to-access email address. Of those that have an easy email, 70% of companies never respond. Of those that responded, only 1 in 5 did so within 24 hours. Telecom companies are also not delivering when it comes to email customer support. Only 53% of telecom companies provide an easily accessible email address and of those, only 65% of telecom companies did not respond to a simple question about their plan options.
By adopting email bots that can automatically resolve the highly repeatable customer service emails, companies can scale to thousands of responses per minute. Companies can also reduce customer support costs. According to Gartner, customer support emails cost an average of $8.01 per contact if handled by humans. By automating even 50% of emails, a company could enjoy significant savings.
Will My Customers Know It’s A Bot Sending Them The Email?
Just like with the best AI chatbots, email bots can pull data from CRM, order management and other back-end business systems to provide personalized resolutions. While an email bot should never try to pass as a human, it can provide a human-like experience – accurately understanding the customer, providing a relevant and personal response, and picking up on sentiment. That being said, email bots should always have a seamless way to escalate a customer to a human agent based on the nature of their issue, their sentiment and other factors like customer profile status.
Email Bots are the next big thing with customer support automation
Even as SMS and social messaging channels like Messenger, WeChat and WhatApp have gained prominence as a customer support channel, email remains the go-to for customers of all ages, from boomers to Gen Z. Companies need to adopt AI to respond to incoming emails to improve the customer experience and reduce customer support costs. Now that modern AI has caught up and is able to accurately understand customer support emails, the adoption of email bots is going to accelerate in 2021.