We are living in a world where we are so connected that it can be annoying and even overwhelming. Just look and how much time you spend on your mobile devices, it is astonishing. As consumers, we are doing more and more on digital platforms and being exposed to lots of technology that make our lives a little easier, well in most cases.
With so much distraction it can be challenging to connect with customers, especially if you work in credit and collections. But over the past few years, we have somewhat of a sea change. Customers who do not want to be contacted are increasingly more likely to respond and engage if they don't have to have a voice-to-voice conversation with a debt collections agent. So, what has changed?
...that is what has changed. We all remember when chatbots burst onto the scene with the famous article '2016 will be the year of Conversational Commerce' where Chris Messina first introduced the notion of businesses using asynchronous messaging, chat and voice, collectively known as conversational interfaces to communicate with customers. From that point of view, things have never been the same.
Messaging has grown exponentially. People message one another nearly 20 times more on messengers than they did on SMS. We don't phone. The heads are down around the room, thumb-typing on smartphones as we respond to friends, family, our sports groups, and even some of the companies we buy from. With messengers, you are in control. That is why in credit and collections we have witnessed more and more customers willing to have those difficult conversations about money. With asynchronous messaging customers can take the time to respond when it is right for them.
Four years ago very few people had experienced any type of chatbot engagement. Most of us didn't even know what they were. That has changed. Chatbots are a part of our daily lives. We don't bat an eyelid now of we have a bot respond when we are ordering food. It's a bot that prompts us to check in or that answers our questions about coronavirus in our area (NHS WhatsApp coronavirus chatbot). When you click on that webchat button on a website.... that's, well, that's a chatbot too. It is probably one of the main innovations in customer self-service technology in the last number of years, yet we still think of it as "new".
When it comes to messaging customers about payments and overdue accounts the use of automated chatbots brings a lot to the table. Not only do customers feel comfortable and engaged, but the efficiency gains for business are instant, and the cashflow impacts is significant.
At a time when movement restrictions are causing customers to do more on digital platforms, there is an increasing desire for conversations that enable us to interact more naturally. Simple single-purpose bots were a good place to start but users and companies soon find themselves feeling a level of frustration and wanting to do more. This is where AI-powered chatbots come to the fore. Adding in natural language understanding and machine learning with a whole host of smart tools ensures that we can do more within each customer interaction. It understands if we have all the information we need to move to the next part of the service; it understands what our account details area and it guides the customer to a positive outcome.
Like everything in life conversations can get complicated. Deploying a bot to completely automate collections payments is not going to deliver the results every time. People get confused about choices, people get bored with systems, people have unique situations that are hard to design for upfront. Software alone can't discern always discern context, but people are excellent at asking other people questions. Every contact process should be able to blend bots and human agents seamlessly. Once an agent has done their part, they can then hand it back to the automated conversation to continue with the next part of the journey. If you can give your agents access to tools that help them engage more with the end customer, even better. Bots can make agents brilliant suggested responses and the best next steps.
Leading-edge companies are using bots so that at the right time, higher-value conversations can be routed to skilled agents, which in turn drives better outcomes. Knowing your customers, and which ones need to be responded to quickly, and understanding what information you need to serve them with, is as old as retailing itself. The problem is that we now have more customers than ever before and the standards that they expect are higher than ever.
There are so many elements to good conversational customer engagement ranging from good conversational flow design, microcopy that is clear and compelling, and the removal of any cognitive overhead for the customer and agent alike. Chatbots and conversational technology will have ever-growing design affordances but at its heart is as humans we crave convenience, ease of use, and services that help us manage our relationships and commitments to others.