Time to recognise what chatbots say about company culture

By Peter Lorant
Peter Lorant, EMEA COO, Zendesk discusses how businesses can bring AI into their CX operation whilst ensuring it’s the best fit for your company culture

With the cost-of-living crisis biting hard and inflation reaching heights not seen in several decades, consumers and businesses are scrutinising every pound they spend. According to a study of people in seven European nations, the majority of households had seen an increase in prices over the past year. Those in Spain, Great Britain and Germany witnessed it the most.

Most people expect prices to rise over the next 12 months too. Companies must compete for every purchase and there’s a risk they could lose customers because of a single bad experience. What’s particularly galling for companies, is that they could lose business even before any form of human interaction takes place.

What does the future of AI hold? 

The use of automation in customer service operations is increasing all the time. Let’s look at the travel and hospitality industry as an example. According to a report released last year, just over a quarter of businesses in the sector worldwide already used chatbots to enable customers to make bookings and enquiries. Meanwhile, a Zendesk study found that 57% of businesses across all sectors plan to increase their AI budgets by at least 25% next year.

There’s a lot riding on these tools, particularly because more than half of customers will switch to a company’s competitor after just one bad customer service experience. Currently, 55% of people surveyed in EMEA say they don’t get accurate answers from chatbots. Automated tools can be helpful but they can also be a liability if not created or used in the right way. There’s a high likelihood of not just frustration, but also unintended consequences of what it says about your brand if your chatbot communicates in a way that doesn’t line up with your company ethos.

Reflecting your ethos through AI 

While it may be straightforward to train service agents on the relationship between company culture and service, the process to do this when training an AI is different. Set aside the technical details around training a new AI tool, and there’s also the cultural challenge to make sure all tools, particularly chatbots, respond in a way that reflects the brand.

As far as the customer is concerned, a chatbot is an extension of your human service agent team. From a cultural standpoint at least, the customers hold automated agents to the same high standard and expect consistency. Even if a chatbot can’t answer all their questions, at the very least customers expect an all-round uniform tone of voice and experience, whoever they speak to.  

Making sure your chatbot is the right fit

Creating a chatbot that fits in with the overall company culture and generally works efficiently starts with the strategy behind it and the implementation. Here are some key things to think about:

Start with the why – Using a chatbot can make customer service operations more efficient and can boost growth through improving customer satisfaction. But what’s your overarching goal? It’s important to begin by asking why you want to introduce an AI tool. Are you using it to improve the customer experience? If it’s simply to cut costs, you might end up short-changing the customer, which will have negative effects in the long run.

Get the tone right – The tone used by your chatbot will be a large contributor to the way your brand is perceived externally. The best way to look at this is with a cross-functional approach that considers both the technical and customer side of a chatbot. Combine input from both the technical and marketing experts to make sure the solution communicates what the brand stands for and how the brand should be seen externally.

Be authentic – The way a chatbot speaks with a customer will vary depending on the brand voice. However, one thing is the same for all companies: it’s important that you are as authentic as possible, because customers don’t like to be deceived. Our research at Zendesk found 90% of consumers place a high value on authenticity. It’s always best to let customers know when they are speaking with a bot to make sure they manage their expectations and maintain trust in the business.

Bad AI doesn’t just affect customers, it also affects agents. Poor tools - or poorly implemented tools - are counterproductive and make the job of agents more difficult, not easier. This in turn, affects morale and internal team culture. This means the teams responsible for rolling out the solution should be held accountable for its performance. This will involve constant tracking of key metrics and being ruthless in the way you A/B test chatbots to make sure customers and agents are happy with the outcomes.

AI is a tool, not a destination. It should be used to improve efficiency and CX levels, not as a way to cut corners or sell customers short. When done wrong, even with the right team of service agents in place, you could still fall at the final hurdle if the AI is ignorant to the message your brand wants to convey. And, as the technology continues to improve, it will always require input from multiple parts of the business to make sure everyone – whether human or virtual – is singing from the same hymn sheet.

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