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I joined the customer service technology race in the mid-1990s in Germany, at a time when call centres and toll-free or reduced numbers were all the rage. In those distant days, there were only telephone calls with a few faxes and letters coming in. Soon email arrived on the scene and centres around the world were adding this exciting new channel to their platforms.

Working at Avaya I was part of this exercise and enjoyed watching a new type of agent handling customer inquiries. Not long into the new millennium, with the advent of the Web 2.0, web chat became more often requested and we responded. It was after web chat was out for a while that we noticed an interesting trend: one of the most often asked questions in web chat exchanges was “Can I call you?” Agents who handle chats often or usually do not have a telephone meaning a complicated ‘please call this number’ process begins and the customer usually has to repeat their story. This led to a disjointed experience, as agents responsible for different channels passed customers between them and information was sometimes lost in translation.

The disconnect in the seamless customer experience, that started then, is still going on today – despite the current focus on the single, omnichannel customer journey. Take the example of the customer who abandons their shopping cart on your website and then calls you. Can your customer service application present the contents of that shopping cart on the agent’s desktop before their call is answered? If the answer is no, then the reality is this is what today’s customers expect.

Chatbots everywhere

So, here we are in 2016. The focus on customer experience has finally made it to the boardroom. Mobile-everything is challenging organisations everywhere, social media, video, and apps have become the de facto means of communication and now we’re starting to talk about chatbots.

Will they be the next big thing? I think so, but what will really make them successful is the way they are integrated. Quite simply, they cannot be added as just another channel. Do that and they will fail.

In order for chat bots to be successful they require a great deal of context about the person chatting. This means software-as-a-service (SaaS) chat bot providers need to integrate tightly with the business they are serving. On top of that, many of the chats will lead to a real person being brought into the conversation.

But here’s the million dollar question: can that chat session starting with a bot, move to a chat agent then become a phone call with the customer? Perhaps even a video call? Customers expect simple, easy service. Customers’ service expectations are judged by their last great experience. To succeed, providers must also meet these challenges. Only those vendors and solution providers that do so will see a real impact on their customer services.

At Avaya, we’re working on our first product in the SaaS chatbot arena. This together with our advanced multi-touch customer engagement solution Avaya Oceana allows for those seamless customer exchanges to take place. It is time to stop adding channels to the blend and focus on building fruitful relationships with your customers. Building smart, connected chat bot solutions may be in your company’s near future, just keep in mind that channel mania has come to an end. Oh, and that example earlier of the abandoned shopping cart, yep, solved it!

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