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The chatbot customer service revolution

Ronnie Dibbaut
Ronnie Dibbaut
Subject Matter Expert
· 6 min read

In science fiction, the rise of the robots is usually a doom scenario. Today, however, chatbots are rising to great popularity in all kinds of customer-facing platforms – and for utility companies, they might be the answer to their customer service problems.

Digital and mobile technology have changed the world – you’d be hard-pressed to find someone denying it. It’s changed the way we work, communicate, and act. And it’s giving rise to a generation usually referred to as Millennials, who have never known the world without it; and as today’s and tomorrow’s customers, employees, and decision makers, their tech-enabled upbringing has changed the game.

As we’ve written before, these changes have also had a strong impact on the utility industry, specifically, because of millennials high expectations when it comes to communication and customer service. This has lead large companies, and utilities more than many, to struggle more than before with the standards of their customer care and its cost to serve.

Here, we’d like to go into one of the most important ways technology could help improve this situation.

Talk to the bot: the rise of the conversational interface

First, let’s take a step back. You can probably draw from your own experience when it comes to the rise of customer expectations. Think of the way you interact with others through your smartphone. If you send a message to a friend, you probably expect them to reply, and quickly – and consciously or subconsciously, you hold companies to the same standards. Instant gratification has become the new normal.

“Yes, we are talking about bots and conversational interfaces.”

As businesses are frantically trying to keep up with these demands, technological advancements like deep learning and natural language parsing have led to an increased interest in chatbots.

Language parsing is the methodology that lets computer systems read and understand our human (natural) language. A great example is Google’s SyntaxNet and Parsey McParseface. It determines the function and relation of each word in a sentence in order to correctly interpret the sentence. This technology, of course, is key to a great chatbot.

What exactly is a chat bot or conversational interface? In a basic form, it’s a smart, digital “helper”, that can understand a question the user asks, and offer a relevant answer in return. This sounds deceptively simple, until you realise that answering questions is the foundation of most customer interaction.

A bot can be used for all kinds of use cases, from commerce (“show me all grey shirts in size M”), to content (creating a customized news feed), and, relevant for our context, customer service, where they can answer questions and complaints at any time of day. A bot can be present 247.

  • 44%

    Can’t get immediate
answers to simple questions

  • 33%

    Poor quality or unresponsive contact facilities

  • 31%

    Confusing website navigation

  • 27%

    Questions are not answered out of hours

  • 21%

    Services inaccessible on
mobile devices

This versatility explains why chatbots and conversational interfaces have been called “the new UI”: while many used to consider them a gimmick, it’s becoming obvious that in a very short time, they’ll be the golden standard.

Speak up, write it down

For instance, consider Siri – Apple’s “digital assistant”. She’s become extremely well-known since her debut in 2011, on the iPhone 4S, and yet few people think of her when they read about bots. She was the first of her kind that had such a wide audience for personal use, and was generally considered a fun but gimmicky feature of the new phone.

Five years have passed, and most large technology companies are investing heavily in bots of some form. Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Assistant (the recently launched successor to Google Now), and Amazon’s Alexa platform are all going the Siri route: voice enabled “personal assistant” interfaces that aim to integrate many parts of your digital life. On the other hand are companies like Facebook, who recently launched their Messenger Platform, inviting third-party bots onto their messaging app; or professional chat application Slack, which invests heavily in integrating clever, useful chatbots to connect with different services.

Not only is Facebook launching a platform to develop third-party chatbots on top of their Messenger app, they’re also focused on the technology behind it. Most interestingly, they acquired bot engine Wit.ai, a platform that helps developers easily construct customer-facing bots.

Of course, you might be wondering what the likes of Siri and the Google Assistant have to do with the utility industry’s most pressing issues. We might all secretly enjoy watching our garage door open, the lights go on, or the music start playing – to just name a few obvious uses – at a simple voice command, but this won’t improve customer satisfaction.

What can a bot do?

This is where chatbots come in. With their usually simple, messenger-like interface (there’s a reason Facebook is launching a bot platform), they can offer people a lot of advantages in an easy-to-use format. You can type questions or commands to the bot, which will answer them and ask you follow-up questions.

“A bot can gradually lead you to the answer or result you’re looking for.”

This is a more human, more interactive way of coming to information than a website’s menus or FAQ section, and in many cases, can be as efficient as the answers of a call center agent.

Additionally, a bot is not bound to any standard human limits; it can work and service people at any hour of the day. And while the technology might sound futuristic, chatbots are already being used. Several platforms are offering companies and developers the means to create a bot with a minimal investment of time and effort, making this an adaptable and increasingly widespread way of handling customers.

As businesses are frantically trying to keep up with these demands, technological advancements like deep learning and natural language parsing have led to an increased interest in chatbots.

For customer service, €6 is considered an average call price (a call being a phone call, web request or mail). For a medium-sized company, handling 5000 calls each week, that quickly adds up to an investment of 1,5 million euros each year. You can easily calculate the winnings of automating a percentage of these calls!

Many of the questions a utility customer service rep has to answer are relatively straightforward and repetitive, which increases the chances that a bot can be very effective. And that, in turn, can significantly reduce the load on a call center, while still offering a large amount of customers 247 service. This dramatically decreases the cost to serve per customer, without a negative impact on customer happiness.

In short, when done right, a bot can be a modern, human and cost-effective way to service your customers. And that, of course, is why it’s on our radar at Ferranti when we’re developing MECOMS! We’re always looking for the best ways to help our client companies serve their customers. In fact, we’ve got something special to show you at the European Utility Week! Stay tuned…

Would you like to know how MECOMS can help your organization bring customer service to the next level?


Ronnie Dibbaut
Ronnie Dibbaut
Subject Matter Expert
· 6 min read

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