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Bots v Humans. The Battle for the Call Center.

Summary

  • Facebook launch the Messenger Platform opening the send/receive API.
  • Salesforce.com launch Salesforce for Messenger allowing users to interact with their customers via Messenger using automated intelligence tools.
  • Bots predicted to become sophisticated communication and interaction tools replacing customer service agents in call centers.
  • Fewer humans in call centers will need more knowledge and better pay to deal with tasks outside the bots capabilities.

Content

In early 2014 Facebook switched off messaging from it’s mobile clients, forcing users who wanted to continue instant messaging Facebook contacts to download a separate client. Lots of people were upset at how and why Facebook could possibly treat them this way.

In November 2014 Mark Zuckerberg explained that separation was about usability. News feed and messaging are two different experiences that are tough to combine. To be fair, I bought the story and it seems that the rest of us have shed our indignant stance, happily switching between apps as we seek more ways to avoid actual interaction with other humans.

Last week Facebook announced extensions to the Messenger Platform (it’s a platform now by the way), opening up the send/receive API and allowing bots to interact directly. Facebook have built functions that allow human control over the conversations to make sure we all enjoy a great experience. We all know what happens when some bots forget to take their medication and get over excited.

It seems that bots are the future, Microsoft weighed in recently with the Microsoft Bot Framework allowing developers to build “intelligent bots” that can connect to messaging services. There’s little doubt that when this is correctly implemented our lives will be easier. “Correctly implemented” were the important words here. We flatter ourselves we can differentiate bots from humans but we all know there’ll be some high profile and very messy examples of confusion.

To help us interact with our customers for sales and service, Salesforce.com are launching Salesforce for Messenger. This’ll allow Salesforce users to interact with their customers via Facebook Messenger as a separate communication channel. Using specifically tailored messages based on the customer profile, Salesforce believe they can deliver an experience that is fast and engaging.

With the investments from the likes of Salesforce and Microsoft it’s certain this technology will improve dramatically over time and I’m fascinated to see how this plays out. There will certainly be a hype cycle as excitement and froth dies away and we spend some time in the trough of disillusionment. As I’ve written previously, customers increasingly want to use self service as a primary response mechanism. Automated systems can certainly handle large volumes of customers efficiently without annoying call waiting music and irritating messages about how many customers are in the queue before us.  My preference certainly goes to immediate response then maybe a knowledgeable human if I really can’t find the answer. Personal experience tells me that knowledgeable humans are an increasingly rare breed within the call center as salaries aren’t great and staff attrition is high. If the bots take over (not in the Skynet sense) then there will be less humans in our call centers. Therefore the average human in a call center will need to use applied knowledge to beat the bot. The current model of low pay and high turnover will need to change to higher pay and less turnover to deliver the specialized service the bots can’t deliver. That probably means less, more knowledgeable people but at least they’ll be better paid.

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