In a well-known video from May 2018, the chatbot Google Assistant effortlessly calls a hairdresser to make an appointment for 'her employer'. The lady on the other side clearly does not have the slightest idea that she is talking to a computer. It shows that a 'bot' is quite capable of handling things on its own. It also shows how fast the world of chatbots is evolving. We also love to use technology to push our boundaries. In doing so, our prime focus is on artificial intelligence, big data and self-learning algorithms.
Assist in helping
In our contact centres, chat and messaging are gaining on telephony, fast. And recently, all our chatters now have something special, a personal assistant. Not an errand boy or secretary, but a Virtual Assistant. Programmed to assist our employees in helping customers. How? By giving suggestions for possible solutions. Applicable replies, links to websites or useful instruction videos, everything that can possibly contribute to answering a customer's questions. All the employee has to do is click on the text item and it will automatically appear in the chat box of the customer.
Smarter every day
The Virtual Assistant knows much. Very much. All live chats of the past two years are in the system. As a result, the Virtual Assistant is able to not only predict which answer the customer needs, he can also imitate the 'style of writing' of every helpdesk expert. Due to self-learning algorithms, the Assistant keeps accumulating knowledge. He becomes smarter by the day, improving his capacity to help employees and customers.
The employee is in control, but he can also hand over the chat to the Assistant. For example to ask for customer details during a chat, like 'What is your name, house number and date of birth?' Simple and relatively boring, recurring questions. A nice task for the Assistant. In this way the employee is delegating part of the conversation, and takes over again when needed. The best part in this is the 'cherry picking': he can have the Assistant help with simple questions and handle the chats that require more understanding or feeling himself.
Brains and bots
And precisely that is the reason why bots cannot take over completely. With the current level of technology, everything which is standard can effectively be handled by software, but in our industry not many things are standard. That goes for the content and complexity of possible issues, but also for the feelings of a customer. How does he like to be addressed? Is he in a good mood, or in a hurry? Does he want to chat for a bit? While computers are simply reading lines, a human being can also read between the lines. This emphatic understanding is crucial in helping customers in a satisfactory way. Exactly by combining the strengths of brains and bots, can we make the difference between 'good' and 'great'.
A flexible mind
In theory it sounds fantastic, but in practice this collaboration between man and bot needs to be productive, too. And it is. Our teams are very pleased with their new assistant. Just the other day, I was given a demonstration at our call centre in Nijmegen. An enthusiastic Maxim showed me how the Virtual Assistant helped him with conducting several chat sessions simultaneously. A task that requires a very flexible mind. Because the Virtual Assistant reads 'over his shoulder' and contributes solutions, it becomes a lot easier for Maxim and his colleagues to play such a simul.
So, employees are very happy with the Virtual Assistant. Understandable, because it offers them time and space for the interesting work, and for the professionalism that high-quality service requires. By giving that little bit of extra attention, being sympathetic or simply having a bit of fun. All things that are very important. To employees ánd customers.
Developments go fast. How fast is difficult to say, but we're keeping our eye on the ball. Next to the ongoing development of our bots and Virtual Assistant, we also focus on predicting what can possibly go wrong at our customers. This is called 'predictive analytics'. It enables us more and more to prevent problems instead of having to cure them. After all, the best service is 'no service needed'.
Customer service is a discipline that is innovating at high speed as a result of new technologies. As Executive Director Customer Operations Robin Clements brings out the best in people and technology, pushing the boundaries of the customer service at VodafoneZiggo.