Many of today’s customers have a strong desire for instant gratification, which corresponds to heightened expectations of not only the product being purchased but also the overall experience provided by a business. In particular, multiple studies have found that a majority of customers expect a near immediate response time of just five to 10 minutes when initiating contact with a business.
Such expectations have given rise to real-time CX. Real-time CX is serving customers at the moment they engage with your business. “Serving” includes any activities that meet the needs of a prospect or customer so long as they are provided as close to immediately as possible. A common example of real-time CX on the post-sales side is offering customers a support channel like live chat that allows for a nearly instantaneous response.
In discussions of real-time CX, the emphasis is typically on the time aspect. The importance placed on speed makes sense considering that this type of CX was created as a response to customers’ expectations for immediate interaction. But what about the other half of the term? How real is real-time CX?
Man vs. Machine
When considering the “realness” of real-time CX, what we’re talking about is how much of the experience is being provided by man (as in, human CX professionals) vs. machines. Recent studies indicate that the scale is beginning to tilt toward the machines, with Gartner predicting that by 2020, “customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human.”
What does this machine-driven real-time CX look like? Broadly speaking, there are three ways for real-time CX to occur without the involvement of human agents:
Automation can play a role in real-time CX in a variety of ways. For instance, on the pre-sales side, algorithms can be used to automatically generate personalized recommendations for products that are similar or complementary to the one the customer is currently browsing on a website or mobile app. Following the sale, a popular use of automation in real-time CX is in managing the flow of customer inquiries. This can take the form of a ticketing platform with pre-set rules to automatically route certain tickets to particular agents or a shared inbox where the entire team can view all customer messages in a single location.
The primary advantage of automation in real-time CX is efficiency. Some implementations, like automated ticket routing, enable human agents to help customers more quickly, while others, like personalized recommendations, add value for customers without agents even having to lift a finger — all of which enhances the experience for customers.
In addition to increasing efficiency, tools like shared inboxes can help to reduce agent mistakes. As Hubspot writes, “Inbox confusion is one of the biggest pains for customer support teams. It causes problems like misplaced emails, forgotten conversations, duplicated responses, and sending emails to the wrong people.” The impact of this increased efficiency and reduction in mistakes can be huge. According to Groove, automation can boost the productivity of a team of three support agents by saving them the equivalent of 25 days of work in a year.
Another way in which technology can play a role in real-time CX is through chatbots and other AI-powered assistants. As explained by Hubspot:
“A chatbot is a form of artificial intelligence that simulates human conversation through a live chat interface. It’s programmed with pre-written responses that are displayed based on the customer’s previous message. Chatbots analyze the user’s text for keywords and phrases that relate to common customer roadblocks. Then, the bot provides self-service solutions based on the information it receives.”
The major upside of chatbots for real-time CX is once again efficiency. Chatbots enable customers to receive assistance more quickly. If the issue at hand is relatively simple and straightforward, the chatbot can provide the necessary information without human intervention. If the issue turns out to be more complex, agents can step in and take over the live chat in order to finish helping the customer.
Chatbots have gained in popularity amongst customers, with 50 percent reporting that they “no longer care if they are interacting with humans or AI-enabled technologies,” according to Accenture. The strategy can also have a major impact on a business’s bottom line. In fact, Juniper Research predicts that “chatbots will be responsible for cost savings of over $8 billion per annum by 2022.”
The third and final machine-driven strategy for real-time CX that we’ll explore is self-service. If you consider the entire customer journey, self-service includes anything that a prospect or customer does to help themselves complete a task related to purchasing or using a product — from reading material on a company’s website or reviews on a third-party site to completing a purchase without assistance on an ecommerce site or via a self-check kiosk at a brick-and-mortar store.
When it comes to post-sales CX, self-service primarily refers to the strategy of providing a knowledge base that customers can poke around in to try to find the answer to their question without contacting the support team. This type of self-service contributes to real-time CX in two key ways.
First, customers can use self-service as the initial step in their quest to resolve an issue. If the resources provided by a company are sufficiently thorough and well organized, the customer will likely be able to find the answer they were seeking more quickly than if they’d reached out to support.
Second, self-service can provide a real-time option for customers to get help outside of business hours. Although Inc. reports that 51 percent of customers believe that businesses should be available 24/7, it’s simply not feasible for many companies to offer human support around the clock. By having a clear and comprehensive knowledge base that is accessible 24/7, businesses can move one step closer to providing real-time support during off hours without increasing staffing costs.
Given these benefits, businesses can take comfort in Zendesk reporting that 91 percent of customers “say they would use a knowledge base if it met their needs.” With stats like that, it’s no wonder the ticketing platform calls self-service “the fastest and most cost-effective way to [provide] customer support.”
So, Is Real-Time CX Really Real?
Real-time CX involves a mix of humans and machines, which leads us to conclude that it is “semi-real.” As explored above, technology can positively contribute to real-time CX through automation, chatbots, and self-service. Each of these strategies offers the potential for helping customers quickly while simultaneously boosting the productivity of support teams and raising a business’s bottom line.
But there can also be downsides to machine-driven CX strategies. Every single person reading this can probably remember a time when they were talking to an automated voice system or chatbot that just didn’t get it; it can be downright maddening. Perhaps that’s why Kayako found that, “despite their strong preference for live chat, 47 percent of consumers can’t remember a positive live chat experience from the past month.”
In addition to the higher level of understanding they can provide, human agents are critical for bringing empathy to customer interactions. As shown in the graphic from Groove below, even in a world where technology expands by leaps and bounds every day, resolving a problem with an empathetic human remains the most desired customer experience.