Conversational Services

Three ways to lower customer support costs

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Key points:
Customers today are looking for fast, efficient customer service, but providing this type of service can be expensive. Here’s our advice to organizations looking to decrease customer support costs:

  • Don’t rely on call centers, as this cost of 24/7 customer support is extremely high
  • Automate low-level customer support tasks with new technology
  • Configure a bot that doesn’t require deep technical skills and a background in machine learning

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No one ever said customer service was easy, and today’s customers are more demanding than ever. They want fast, perfect service over their preferred channel. For many customers, instant gratification is too slow. For businesses, providing this type of top-notch service can be prohibitively expensive at a time when they’re already suffering from shrinking profit margins. In many industries while prices have dropped, the cost of supporting products has remained the same. So what can you do to reduce costs and still provide quality service? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Don’t rely on call centers

With current models that rely on call centers, the cost of providing round-the-clock support is extremely high. In addition to being expensive to operate, in situations where call centers play a dominant support role, customers frequently experience problems resolving their issues. Often they are passed from agent to agent. Yet it is three times more expensive to handle and escalate a call than to resolve the query on the first point of contact.1

Here’s another way to look at these costs. Annually, 270 billion service calls are made and roughly 50 percent of first calls go unresolved.1 Not only are customers unsatisfied, but companies also lose money trying to figure out how to help. Many organizations struggle to reduce the average handling time of each call or chat. They have trouble getting the right information to the customer quickly, which increases the cost per call.

Those customers who can’t get what they need quickly are likely to defect to a competitor. According to RCR Wireless News, for example, a study released by the WDS found that “Only 13% of customers show the level of loyalty that would prevent them from leaving for other competitive offers or because of service disruptions.” Even if an end product works well, customers may leave solely based on customer care. RCR Wireless News also reports that a customer is “2.5 times more likely to be a switch-risk if they don’t feel valued or trust their operator” and “1.6 times more likely to become a switch-risk if they contact customer support.”2

2. Automate low-level customer support tasks

Technology such as conversational bots or virtual agents can be a cost-effective way to automate routine support tasks and free up human resources for more challenging support issues. With a virtual agent, customers converse in natural English (or other languages), which can help improve that all-important first contact resolution.

The tricky part about using virtual agents or bots is that they must be personalized or the customer experience suffers. Customers want to feel valued and that their experience is tailored to their needs.

In order to maintain brand loyalty and facilitate repeat orders for customers, Staples provides customers an AI-powered “Easy Button”:

Certain companies are much better than others at providing great customer service, and those with the best customer service are:

  • Better able to correctly identify and resolve the root cause of a customer’s issue.3
  • More likely to offer self-serve options for simple requests so customers can answer their own questions, which frees agents to focus on more complex issues.3

The idea of bots and virtual agents handling common customer questions has been around for a while, but early solutions were difficult to set up and use.

3. Get a bot that doesn’t require a PhD to set up

All bots aren’t created equal. In the past, deploying bots required deep technical skills and a background in machine learning. Because these systems were so difficult to use, slow to train, implement and maintain, they cost businesses a lot of time and money. If a system takes months to set up and a degree in machine learning to operate, you haven’t achieved your goal of reducing costs.

Fortunately, IBM has brought its cognitive experience into the customer service realm. IBM Watson Virtual Agent comes pre-trained with industry and domain content on some of the most common questions your customers are likely to ask. Watson runs online through a browser, so there’s no complicated set-up. You just configure Watson with your specific company information and it’s ready to answer typical customer support questions, such as inquiries related to operating hours, location and upgrades.

In addition to defining text responses for commonly asked questions, you also can integrate Watson with other applications, such as billing systems or mapping applications. For more complex questions, you can create a custom dialog flow using an intuitive graphical interface. You can even set up Watson so certain types of questions, such as those that have regulatory implications are handed off to a live agent for a response.

Because Watson Virtual Agent runs in the cloud as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), you don’ t need to install or build anything to get started. New content and features are delivered regularly, so you don’t have to worry about installing updates or being on the current version.

Curious to learn more? Watch how easy it is to provide great customer service at an affordable price with Watson.

Endnotes:

  1. IBM Institute for Business Value Global C-Suite, 2013
  2. RCR Wireless News: Telecom Analytics: The path to customer loyalty through analytics. http://www.rcrwireless.com/20130321/carriers/telecom-analytics-the-path-customersloyalty-analytics
  3. ServiceNow Survey: Improve Customer Service by Fixing Root Causes and Offering Self-Service http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160824006065/en/ServiceNow-Survey-Improve-Customer-Service-Fixing-Root

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