Businesses today treat interactive voice response (IVR) and chatbots for customer service like any other IT project: gather requirements, define solution architecture, choose vendor, purchase platform, install/configure platform (the latter is still needed, even in the SaaS model), build IVR scripts on platform, test, deploy, end of project. If they're smart, they throw in a tuning phase after go-live, and add historical reporting to oversee the performance.
I believe it's time to throw out this model and adapt a radically different mindset.
From an IT Project to an ... HR Project?
IVR and chatbots are applications of artificial intelligence: the attempt at simulating human behavior, in this case having a conversation. IVR systems do a job that has been done by agents before: be the first line of defense, take that initial call, determine what the customer needs, route them to the answer which comes in the form of either an agent with the right skillset, or a direct answer from a database, a CRM or FAQ system.
Chatbots will do the same going forward. But if they do the job of the human, what if we considered them an employee like our agents, just in “digital form”? What if we thought of deploying a new IVR system the same way we thought of hiring a new employee? What if we even went so far as to give that new hire a name? Let’s decide for a female persona, and let’s call her Ivy.
All of a sudden you realize the steps to bring an IVR or a chatbot system to life are very similar to bringing a new hire up to speed:
Gather requirements before deciding on needing new technology
Gather requirements before deciding on needing new staff
Define solution architecture
Define job description
Choose platform vendor
Choose vendor that will help with onboarding
Get familiar with onboarding approach of selected vendor
Build IVR scripts
Teach digital employee the basics of your business
Expose digital employee to internal “customers” to validate their initial performance
Ready them to take the first call/chat
Train them on new questions, or change and improve their responses to existing questions
Review performance reports
Review performance reports
If you don’t consider IVR a piece of technology, but instead as a new hire, you have the opportunity to completely rethink the job of the IVR or chatbot. And by doing so, create new processes that allow you to constantly improve the digital employee, ultimately overcoming most if not all annoyances customers have had with IVR.
Related Article: The Enterprise Chatbot: Your Future Coworker?
Comparing 'Digital Employees' to Human
While the initial investment to do so seems high — and it certainly is higher than the training needed for a new human hire, as the human employee brings basic intelligence, speech abilities and conversational skills, with them — there are clear benefits of a digital employee:
Can get sick, be in bad mood
Never gets sick, never in bad mood
Every new hire needs to be trained from scratch
Only a new hire once
Only works certain hours a day, needs vacation
Demands pay raises over time
Maintenance costs decrease over time
Makes mistakes, produces inconsistent work
Doesn’t make mistakes
Takes minutes to respond to a call, chat, email
Does this mean that we can get rid of humans altogether? Of course not. Not even long term. Digital employees can only handle basic inquiries, humans are needed to address more complex needs. Furthermore, digital employees will never be able to empathize with a customer, apply judgement, creative problem solving, etc.
Of all the tasks in the contact center, you will want to find the “digital comfort level” of your organization: which tasks would you comfortably hand over to a digital employee, and which would you rather keep with your human employees:
Related Article: A Good Chatbot Is Hard to Find
The Benefits of Treating IVR and Chatbots as New Hires
Rethinking your approach to IVR and bots this way fundamentally changes what self-service technology can do for you, what value you assign it in your organization, where you place it in the spectrum of customer service tools at your disposal, and what value it can provide to you in terms of customer experience improvements, cost savings, revenue increases and more.
The digital employee should be managed like any other human resource in the contact center: by your workforce manager. It will then naturally be considered in staff planning and forecasting, in performance reviews, in hiring situations, etc. Ivy should get a seat at the table when making staffing decisions. Adding her to your staff will also start an interesting dynamic within your team: your agents will suggest which simple inquiries (“what’s my balance,” “where is my order,” “what’s the status of my claim,” etc.) or data collection steps (“next, please provide the last four digits of your social security number …”) would be right for Ivy to handle. Research shows that agents will feel more empowered, more valued and feel like they can have a bigger impact on your company when all of this happens.
By making your digital employee more of a first-class citizen, you can reap the benefits this technology brings to a much larger extent: cost savings through its automation potential, CX improvements through its consistent 24/7 performance, its constant rise in accuracy and more. IVR and chatbot software will need to make it even easier than before to bring this vision to life. With the raised appetite for self-service technologies with consumers, and the willingness to embrace this new type of coworker, the time is now to rethink your IVR and chatbot projects.