This year, contact centers revealed themselves to be the perfect COVID-19 incubators. After all, social distancing in the contact center is difficult to achieve. Companies have been forced to let support teams work from home. For hordes of tech laggards everywhere, this resulted in a hasty move to cloud contact center software—a move that they had put off for so long that it finally just turned around and sneezed on them.

Things have not gone quite according to plan. In many cases the shelter-in-place contact center is not nearly as effective as the bygone (?) incubator-style setup. Productivity has tanked. Around the world, customer experience has suffered at the mercy of even longer customer wait times.

So, again, companies are blindly flailing about, hoping for a technology life-vest just to keep head above water. Predictably they have found one: the chatbot.

On the surface, this life-vest-shaped software seems to make sense. A bot can’t catch the coronavirus. A bot doesn’t suffer from loss of productivity. A bot doesn’t get lonely, feel isolated, or lose motivation. Just the ticket to get out of this miserable mess.

Unfortunately this is not the case. Bots are not the savior for a failing customer experience. It’s not the bot’s fault. Bots are (or can be) excellent pieces of software and (some of them) have a bright future ahead of themselves. But why would a bot blaze a trail of glory where human chat has not? 

It’s a rather simple question and therefore completely ignored by companies the world over. 

According to Gartner, "through 2020, 99% of artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives in IT service management will fail, due to the lack of an established knowledge management (KM) foundation."
Source: Gartner

To a customer (remember, the ones we are actually trying to engage) there is very little difference in the experience between human chat and bot chat. Have customers been falling over themselves to chat with a contact center? In most cases they have not. It seems obvious that a company looking to deploy a chatbot try firstly to deploy … well … chat! It is so much easier, quicker, and cost effective. In doing so a company could see if the experience is one that a customer will engage with. 

In most cases the answer will be “kinda, but not a lot.” But in the cases where the experience is good for a customer—so much so that it is in very high demand—then by all means it should be BOT-tled and wealth and happiness will flow to the organization.

Alas, most organizations will skip this seemingly common-sense test and plunge straight into bot- deployment. The field-of-dreams-approach to contact center strategy has absorbed many a contact center dollar in the past, after all, and with little effect. This looks set to do the same. 

Someday companies will learn the lesson that technology is not equal to strategy. A bot is an amazing and worthwhile tool, but it will only serve well when put in the context and service of a well thought out CX strategy. It is not a replacement for a contact center, either. Why would it be?

Trying to talk to a machine is not what customers actually want. 

Despite what many might think, bots are not self-service. If companies focus on providing customers with a true self-service option, well then, their fortunes would truly start to change.

The secret to better chatbot experiences

See a customer-first approach + knowledge management in action.