As Chatbot-enhanced Messaging Rises in Popularity, Brands That Automate Improve the Customer Experience

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There’s much debate about whether consumers are warming up to chatbots as part of their customer service experience. Rather than simply weigh in with our opinion, we conducted research to understand how brands are using this technology and how consumers are responding, culminating in today’s release of the State of Customer Service Automation 2019.

First, we surveyed 2,353 consumers across the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, and France. Then we analyzed internal data from more than 75 million customer service tickets and 71 million bot interactions worldwide since November 2018. And the data supports what we are seeing ⁠— consumers are increasingly embracing chatbot-enhanced messaging. In fact, twice as many consumers this year compared to last are willing to interact with chatbots.

Why is that? Two reasons.

First, the messaging experience itself fits more seamlessly in consumers’ day-to-day lives. Messaging is the communication mode that consumers already use and love on their smartphones with today’s messaging apps (WeChat, iMessage, WhatsApp, etc.). They love these apps because they can engage in a fluid, ongoing conversation that does not rely on immediate responses. Simply put, they appreciate the convenience of having an ongoing conversation without both parties needing to be available at the moment.

Now the chatbot part. Customers today want their issues solved efficiently, with as little effort as possible on their part. Unfortunately, it’s often impractical and too expensive for customer service to staff 24/7 live support. But chatbots can respond immediately to initial consumer outreach and collect information upfront. While agents are freed up to respond to urgent issues first, they are also equipped to respond better and more quickly once they pick up the thread from chatbots for less urgent issues. So consumers are happy they are being served instead of sitting around wasting time.

Let’s see how our research backs this up:

  • Total issue volume increased by 24% (from Q1 to Q2 2019), and bot interactions increased by 51% in that same time period. Meanwhile, overall CSAT remained flat, dropping only 1/5th of a percent. In other words, brands offloaded more issues and volume to bots — all with no significant change to CSAT.
  • Time to first response (TTFR) is nearly instant with chatbots while time to resolution (TTR) is longer. This finding might seem counterintuitive to the idea of consumers warming up to chatbot-enhanced messaging ⁠— but it’s not. Average TTFR for agents on their own decreased by more than 6% from Q1 to Q2. In other words, they responded more than 6% faster. Agents are able to respond quickly when bots are on hand to lighten the burden of tickets. At the same time, we see a slightly slower TTR for agent + bot ⁠— going from 8.6 hours in Q1 to 9.8 hours in Q2. Bots collect information upfront but only push urgent issues to the top of the agent queue. Yes, that translates to a longer resolution time for less urgent issues, but consumers are happy when they’re not wasting their time on hold, even if the process in aggregate is slower. How can we be certain? Look at the next finding.
  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT) for agent + bot is highest at 4.40 on average across all 6 months (1% higher than agent-only CSAT). The agent + bot option is where we see the highest CSAT, even though it takes slightly longer to resolve issues, because customers value efficiency when it comes to customer service.

Consumers are gaining confidence and trust in bots as a means of satisfying their expectations for efficient resolution. Bots allow them to deal with customer support on their time, organically throughout the day. Sure, they might have to wait a bit longer to get their issue resolved, but they know that they are being heard and that their issue is in the queue, waiting for the next available agent to jump in and resolve it.

For more the state of customer service automation in 2019, download the full 20-page report.

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Published September 24, 2019
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