Jul 2, 2020 7:45:00 AM

Building the case for a customer service chatbot

 

During my time at Solvemate, I have met and talked to hundreds of customer service leaders about the needs of their service departments. Over 200 of these interactions have moved beyond the first meeting, 

generally signaling that the people we’ve been in contact with were genuinely interested in customer service automation and the ways in which Solvemate could help them.

 

Many of these people went on to become happy Solvemate customers. But the ones who did not tended to have one specific thing in common. 

 

They didn’t know how to convince other key C-level stakeholders to proceed with the automation initiative—they didn’t possess the necessary tools or the knowledge to make it happen.

 

These service leaders really wanted to move forward with customer service automation and were particularly interested in our conversational chatbots. 

 

So, it’s not that the companies chose another vendor. What happened instead, was that they didn’t do anything at all. In sales we call this “no action taken”. In fact, from the deals we’ve lost, over 90% were labelled as “no action taken”—the companies decided to do nothing. Not move ahead, not find another solution. 

 

“No action taken” is the most unfortunate outcome of all. While we would like for these companies to become Solvemate customers, we would still rather they find a solution from our competitors than do nothing at all. (Full disclosure: less than 5% of the deals were lost to other vendors. 😉)

 

We might be selling software, but what’s even more important to us than our sales is the knowledge that those customer service teams were able to solve their problems. “No action taken” is a slap in the face to both the customers and the service teams: They have a problem, but no way of finding a solution.

 

So when you read case studies about the results of customer service automation, like companies automating 40% of their requests and seeing CSAT scores soar, it’s clear that not paying attention to the needs of the service department can even hurt the overall business. Customer service is gaining more strategic momentum in an increasing number of companies, but this is not yet the day-to-day reality across the board.

 

I want to share what I’ve learned from all the discussions I’ve had as Solvemate’s Chief Customer Officer, so that customer service leaders can get the leverage they need to convince their company’s decision-makers and support their teams.

 

Now, this article is for leaders who are looking for a customer service chatbot, but you could apply these steps to any project you want to run within the service department. Like for example introducing a new CRM system, launching live chat support or applying a new customer service strategy.

 

I’ve outlined three “to do” items that will help you build a solid case. They’ll provide you with an arsenal of arguments and materials that you can use when pitching to C-level stakeholders. Let’s get started.

 

 

1. Identify the strategic business problem your company is facing

 

Successful customer service departments that deliver results all have a clearly defined strategic approach. 

 

However, the unfortunate reality is that many service managers are rewarded mainly for maintaining the status quo and making only incremental improvements. Relatively small changes like improving the CSAT score by a few percent are celebrated, even though service managers are fully aware that they could achieve so much more if they had a bit more leeway, strategic focus and support from the upper management. 

 

Companies that have made innovation and customer service the core of their business are usually the ones that challenge their customer service leaders to think outside the box and make radical improvements.

 

If you want to make radical improvements to your service department and overall service experience, but tend to face resistance or disinterest from the top when you suggest innovative new approaches, fear not! There are ways to win over the decision-makers and start changing things for the better. 

 

If you’re an ambitious service leader in a traditional company, you need to work hard to get the attention of the upper management.

 

Before you start building a case for a customer service chatbot, make sure you know what you want and why. Are you certain you actually need a chatbot and not some other solution? There should be no doubt in your mind.

 

You need to identify the underlying reason why your service department is struggling. In other words, why should the company act on this right NOW? 

 

  • Are you going through a difficult phase as a company, leading to a lot of angry customer requests? 
  • Are you growing fast and struggling to quickly hire the right service agents?
  • Is agent retention a problem? Are your most talented employees leaving soon after they get the hang of the job? Could this be related to stress or the repetitive nature of their work, and could a chatbot help to reduce stress levels and mundane tasks?
  • Is the company expanding into new markets? Are you seeing more international demand and need to provide more than just a 9-5 service? Do most of your service tickets arrive outside business hours?
  • Does the current market situation and competition indicate that you need to be more attuned to customer expectations and think beyond phone and email support?

 

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These are all valid reasons to act big and adapt the company strategy to accommodate your customer service needs. Even if customer service is on the “receiving end” of these issues, all of the points above are in fact the market talking to the business executives and they should not be ignored.

 

But to get the attention of C-level executives, you have to understand which scenario relates most strongly to your company.

 

 

2. Get to know the market

 

If you’ve correctly identified the underlying issue and come to the conclusion that adding a chatbot to your service mix will ease your woes, then the next step is to get educated. It’s not enough to say that you “need a chatbot”. You need to know which one, which type of technology, which use case it will benefit, and why. 

 

The thing is, there are a million different chatbot vendors on the market. Compared to the rest of the customer service tech stack, like a helpdesk and phone systems, the chatbot space is still very new and full of jargon. It’s not really possible to just bring out the requirements list from your last job, set up a couple of calls with vendors you already know can do the job, and then pick the best offer. 

 

If you have the tech resources and your company is big enough (or operating in certain industries), you could even decide to build an automation solution from scratch, or build upon open source frameworks, either internally or through an agency. 

 

But if your company isn’t in a position to make that kind of massive investment, there are also lots of out-of-the-box, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) vendors on the market. Their solutions can be set up in a couple of months, or even just a couple of days. 

 

So when choosing a chatbot, where do you even start? You have to understand what vendors are really offering and how their products can benefit your service department.

 

You also want to consider which channel will be most relevant for your company in the future, say for example, in two or three years from now (we bet that it won’t be email or phone).

 

Once you’ve done your research and understand which type of chatbot could be a good fit for your use case, it’s time to narrow down the options:

 

  • Review sites like Capterra are a great place to start. You can quickly check which vendors have good reviews (just googling “customer service chatbots” will be like opening Pandora’s box).
  • Look for strong case studies. There are a lot of empty claims being thrown around, so you want to make sure you’re getting legitimate information from real-life customers as well as the vendors. What results are their customers really achieving?
  • Once you’ve narrowed it down to one or two vendors, ask them for a reference call with a relevant customer. This will give you even more in-depth answers than any case study can, and allows you to hear first-hand what it’s like setting up the chatbot, maintaining it, etc. etc. Prepare your questions well. 😉

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3. Present a clearly positive ROI to prove that it’s worth investing in customer service

 

As a customer service manager, it’s not always easy to get the attention of the upper management or have your requests prioritised. When budgets are being allocated, it’s often the service department that gets the smallest piece of the pie. They also tend to bear the brunt of any budget cuts. 

 

While the tide is turning, there are still many companies that view customer service primarily as a cost centre. Sadly, it’s still common that departments like IT, marketing and sales get to go shopping for the newest and coolest tech, while service managers are expected to squeeze a little bit more out of their team with the tools they already have—often at the expense of employee satisfaction

 

At Solvemate, we strongly believe that customer service departments need to be seen differently—and we’re definitely not alone. There are endless arguments for why customer service should be valued more highly. I mean, for starters, customer retention costs only a fraction of the outlay involved in customer acquisition (but that’s a topic for a whole other blog post 😉).

 

The last “to do” item that will help you build your case and get the buy-in is to show that there will be an overall financial benefit for the company. Customer service departments are often measured using secondary KPIs, such as average handling time and average response time, but these are not the KPIs your board will care about. You need to be able to show the impact that an amazing service experience will have on the customer retention rate, repeat purchase rate and CSAT. If you don’t have access to this information already, then get to know your business intelligence team and ask them if they could compile it for you. 

 

A recent podcast episode featuring our CEO and our partner Zendesk about which KPIs to measure in customer service (sorry, this one’s in German only).

 

002 Customer Service Podcast Kundendienst Erik Pfannmoeller Bjoern Bauer Zendesk

 

Getting those numbers and that intelligence from BI might take some time, but there are plenty of things you can do while you wait. What can you do right now for your chatbot project that you want to kick off ASAP? Calculate the ROI!

 

Compared to a lot of other business projects, calculating the ROI for a chatbot project is pretty easy. All you need to know to work out a rough estimate of your ROI is how many customer service agents your company employs. 

 

To make your job easier, we have created an ROI calculator based on dozens of companies across various industries. The number of service agents is the key variable. For all the other variables (like salary, bot performance, etc.), we have made educated assumptions based on our experience and research. Of course, if you have that information on hand your ROI calculation will be even more accurate. 

 

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It’s not easy for service managers to get the attention of C-level stakeholders. Particularly in large companies, there are a lot of departments competing for the same resources. Customer service has to battle it out with departments traditionally seen as the real money makers. 

 

But times are changing and companies are increasingly waking up to the importance of their service departments. There is no better time than now to drive the change you want to see. 

 

So build that story, get to know the market and make your case for a customer service chatbot with a positive ROI. If you have a compelling case, nothing can stand in your way. 

 

P.S. If you’re ready to take action, get in touch here.

AUTHOR

Christian is a co-founder and chief customer officer at Solvemate. He has spent the last decade scaling up SaaS startups across Oslo, Copenhagen, San Francisco and Berlin. He's into every sport that involves either a ball or a board. Or anything really, as long as it’s a competition :)