P.V. Kannan, Co-founder and CEO
In the 90s, Amazon did something in the customer service space that persists today. Like many companies, Amazon added a 1-800 number that enables consumers to speak to a customer service representative, but it’s impossible to find on the website. Companies deliberately make this number difficult to find because paying agents to handle calls is expensive, and companies seek to avoid it at all costs. What Amazon and others do is attempt to provide some sort of self-service filtering that prevents everyone from calling it when they don’t need to.
The problem is, sometimes they need to. With many items (like a book), consumers never have to think about something going wrong with it. Chances are that it will arrive on time, the pages will be printed correctly, and they will have no problem. However, for other items like – let’s say a vacuum cleaner – what if it’s defective? What if it’s missing a part? Would you know what to do? Your first instinct might be to navigate to Amazon’s help page, at which point you’re confronted with the image at the top of this article.
That’s a staggering array of categories from which to choose, and for the next few minutes I have to think about which category is the best fit, often getting it wrong and encountering dead ends along the way. There are lot of interesting drop down lists that remind you of the IVR systems of the 90s – you know the ones that said “press one for this and two for that.” Who considers this a very effective way to serve customers today?
Spoiler alert: This is an incredibly frustrating experience for most consumers.
So what do you think is the first thing consumers do when they get frustrated? You guessed it, they pick up the phone in order to speak to a live person. Amazon doesn’t share any data about its customer service, so I went Google AdWords to see how many people were looking for Amazon’s 800 number. What I found was that there were 570 ways to search for this. Five hundred and seventy. Using search terms from “i need the phone number for amazon customer service,” to “amazon live chat,” to “amazon call me back,” somewhere between 5 million and 10 million people search for this each month.
What that tells us is that their site isn’t laid out in an intuitive way for customers to find this. Why is it so hard to find this number on the site? Once it’s found, consumers are greeted with a traditional IVR system that asks them to say why they're calling. In some cases, this is great if it’s an issue that can be easily resolved by a machine. If it’s more complicated, it requires a human and depending on the time of day, the wait can be several minutes – unless you know a trick.
How do you bypass this? Well, one of the tricks that gethuman.com suggest is don’t press or say anything, or press “0.” When you get a tip like that, you want to try it out. So I tried it out by not saying anything and waiting. Within 45 seconds I was able to get someone on the phone.
So, why am I telling you this? Because there is a much better way to engage consumers and keep them happy, even in self-service. Brands need to make it easy for the consumer to have a conversation with the company. Now, if these conversations were completely done by humans they would be fairly onerous and they become and expensive proposition. That’s why we see companies attempting to put layers of self-help everywhere.
But there’s a better way. If you look at what SiriusXM has done, you go can go to the homepage and in the bottom right you’ll see a chat window. That is on every page. Instead of having to search the site, and then search through categories and guess at where your issue might fit, you can type in your concern using natural language and the bot will respond with the most appropriate answer. The technology understands natural language and can determine the consumer’s intent -- in other words, what the consumer is trying to do.
A lot of times, people tell it what they want and it just gives them a link to a page that answers their question. It’s simple, and people like it. The vast majority walk away getting what they need, and only a tiny fraction actually need to transfer to a human agent. The power of making it simple drives self-service engagement levels that are very high, and creates more satisfied customers.
There are three main reasons that putting customer service everywhere makes sense:
Consumers don’t need to search for anything. The state of natural language technology is so powerful that a consumer can just ask it what they’re looking for. That’s the power of natural language understanding. It doesn’t care about the 570 different ways that you search for something. It just finds what you need and points you to one answer. Is your search engine that powerful?
Seamless escalation. By putting this everywhere, and using chatbots as the front line, consumer adoption of self-service goes up. If the consumer asks a question that the bot can’t handle, it seamlessly hands off the conversation to a live agent who takes over. Of course, the person identifies herself as a live agent and also notifies the consumer when he is being transferred back to a bot.
Consumers are already digital. Most consumers already engage with companies using digital channels, and they prefer to stay in those channels whenever possible. For younger generations this is increasingly true. If you’re not doing this already, you need to fix it before a competitor comes along and offers a better experience.
The days of putting up all these walls are over. All that does is force consumers to look for ways to bypass them. Look at poor Amazon. I didn’t even bother with the self-service treatment in the IVR because I found out how to get straight to a human agent.
In summary, to increase customer satisfaction, beat the competition and reduce contact center costs, you need to put your help on every page. Use natural language processing to increase self-service adoption and use enterprise-ready chatbots to scale and automate interactions. And if the chatbot cannot handle it, give them a human agent, right away. In other words, make it simple for consumers to do business with you.