Both chatbots and live chat are becoming integral parts of the customer experience, which has evolved in recent years to bring consumers closer to brands. The rise of social media can at least partly explain the increase in demand for real-time answers for questions, concerns or problems from users.
In fact, Econsultancy figures show that more than three-quarters of consumers (79%) prefer live chat functions because they don't have to wait on hold.
This change in demand has seen chatbots and live chat services take a more prominent role in customer experience and user journeys. Once as annoying as pop-up adverts, these on-site communication tools have evolved to become a useful way for people to get a solution to their problems.
But how will they shape the future of customer service, and what's next?
What's the difference?
A chatbot is an automated response built on algorithms that typically direct customers to information already on the website or to take their details to have a human get back to them. This is all done through a 'chat' interface placed on the homepage.
In contrast, live chat puts consumers directly in touch with someone working for the company, though what can be accomplished during this interaction can vary from brand to brand.
How does it benefit customer service?
There are benefits and drawbacks to both chatbots and live chat services for brands, especially when focusing on customer service.
Although they don't have the personalization that comes with live chats, well-devised chatbots can work for hours answering customer queries without the need for any human intervention. For a brand, this basically doubles its resource, allowing professionals to answer more complicated queries, while chatbots direct customers who are struggling to find specific information.
Chatbots also don't require any breaks and won't get frustrated or fatigued if they've had a bad day, not got enough sleep or are having to answer the same three questions for days at a time. The sophisticated software behind chatbots means that multiple consumers can be dealt with at the same time, instead of having to wait for an agent to become available for live chat.
This can help limit frustration experienced by customers wanting a quick answer to their query and can help explain why Gartner estimates that 85% of all customer service interactions will be with chatbots by 2020.
Where are the drawbacks?
Although it may limit frustration for impatient customers, chatbots can be their own cause of frustration if consumers are struggling to get the answers they need. This can be especially damaging to a brand's reputation if customers spend their time trying to explain their predicament to a bot, before it eventually directs them to the customer service phone line.
Chatbots also miss the benchmark of human interaction that many customers are craving when they have a bespoke problem. People don't want to feel like they are being fobbed off by a computer but instead want to be valued as a loyal customer, which can be difficult to achieve with chatbots.
What's the solution?
Effective customer service of the future will revolve around both live chat and chatbots and brands will need to identify a way to successfully filter users to the most effective tool for them.
Chatbots shouldn't be seen as a way of bringing down costs or replacing customer service teams, but instead as a way of streamlining the sales funnel and allowing skilled professionals to prioritize the customers who need bespoke support.
It's important that companies create chatbot features with a seamless way for humans to take over when necessary for just this reason and to avoid any potential reputational damage for companies.