Can bots really deliver great customer experience?

When it comes to CX, can bots truly satisfy expectations, or is the growing tendency to integrate AI actually putting the customer experience at risk?

Given the impact of the customer experience (CX) on a brand’s revenue, reputation and advocacy levels, very few savvy B2B marketers would overlook the need to integrate CX objectives into their activities.

But as the number of channels and touchpoints within every individual’s journey continues to rise, so too does the scale of the CX challenge.

This may go some way to explaining why, unfortunately, B2B customer-experience index ratings lag significantly behind those of retail customers. After all, we continuously read about outstanding examples of B2C CX champions such as AO.com, Halifax Bank and Virgin. But B2B brands fail to receive the same level of praise.

Is this because the CX in the B2B space lacks consistency, when customers move from one channel to another?

For example, it would be fair to say many B2B marketers overlook the role of the phone in their comms activity. This is a widely noted yet surprising trend, as a BizTraffic article elaborates: “If you were asked whether you would want an inbound phone call or an inbound form fill as a lead for your B2B business, the answer would most likely be the phone call.”

But, despite this – and the fact calls have 30-50% conversion rates compared to 1-2% for clicks – marketers usually focus on encouraging customers to fill in forms rather than pick up the phone.

So what happens when the phone does ring? Can a B2B brand ensure the customer experience marries up? Does this even matter? And do bots have a role to play?

Let’s firstly analyse the true need for a great CX when a B2B customer makes a call.

When considering the outcome of Siegel+Gale’s 2017 Global Brand Simplicity Index, EMEA head of insights Ben Osborne is quoted as saying: “…a customer-centric brand has to recognise the fact that life is short and we only have a limited number of hours in the day.”

It could, therefore, be argued that the ability to call a contact centre and achieve the desired outcome quickly and efficiently – even if this is via a bot – would go some way to ensuring the straightforward simplicity that customers demand. And we must remember that delivering a great CX is about ensuring a customer’s needs, expectations and wants are met. So, if these can be satisfied by a bot, why not?

However, a KMPG report also highlights that the emerging phenomenon of ‘consumerisation’ – the cycle of rapidly escalating consumer expectations – is spilling over into the B2B world. This is because, “…fundamentally, just like the consumer world, at the epicentre of success lies a relationship between human beings.”

Clearly, this would imply that a bot simply couldn’t do the conversation justice. After all, a call usually represents a high-intent action, whether the driver is to make a purchase or – at the other end of the scale – a complaint.

Could a bot effectively handle this situation, to ensure an optimum outcome? Well, thanks to ever-emerging technologies, machines are now able to perform basic cognitive tasks too. But in truth, the sophistication of bots probably isn’t there just yet.

Research conducted by CEB – now part of Gartner – supports this point. The optimum level of customer service comes from a rep who can understand the needs of the individual caller, take control of the situation and lead them to a mutually-agreed outcome. It comes back to the ‘human touch’.

So, why are we reading so much about bots in the world of communications, if their capabilities are limited?

Perhaps it’s because the true role of the bot is being overlooked.

The really clever tech – the AI that we hear so much about in the media – still relies on intuitive human intellect in order to reach its full potential.

So, rather than bots being used instead of humans, which could risk jeopardising the CX, they should be integrated alongside human activity, to enhance the CX.

Call intelligence – for instance – can uncover every individual’s behaviour or actions, prior to them picking up the phone. Like many tools within the martech stack, this software provides B2B marketers with data-driven insight such as the web pages the caller has visited, the length of time they’ve spent on them and even the specifics of the campaign that prompted the browsing session. This actionable insight can then be utilised to improve the CX – in real time – when a customer picks up the phone to interact with a brand. The conversation becomes more relevant, contextualised and meaningful.

In this example, call intelligence produces data that helps B2B marketers converge the CX with experiential marketing – the plight to create dynamic, rich and emotional connections with a customer. In other words, the connection wouldn’t be as rich without it.

Just like many other types of tech and bots, call intelligence could not do the job alone. However, it can help raise the bar when it comes to achieving the progress that the B2B space seemingly desires and needs.