Bots that run automated tasks, with or without a visible user interface, have been around for a long time, but chatbots, or programs with a conversational user experience (UX), became the face of the bot movement as it took hold in 2016.
These bots found a successful niche in customer service (knowledge base, FAQs, questions about your order, etc.), where deflection away from human interactions to self-service modalities is both a key to scaling and a key performance indicator (KPI).
The widespread adoption of the concept known as “customer success” by companies around the world, coupled with the rapid growth in and evolution of the customer success management software category, makes this category seem like the next logical space for bots to thrive.
Customer success is when your customers achieve their required outcome — in an appropriate way — through interactions with your company. In 2017 and beyond, those interactions may very well be powered by bots.
The proactive nature of customer success intervention versus reacting to an inbound customer support or service request will require a different, more complex use of bots than we see in customer service today.
With that background, I see bots being used in customer success in two fundamental ways:
1. Front-end customer success bots
Front-end bots will proactively engage the customer and will drive the “tech touch” portion of a customer success management coverage model. The other part of this coverage model is direct human interaction, or the “human touch,” which complements the use of technology to provide a holistic and high-value customer experience. The ratio of technology to human touch will vary by customer segment.
In customer success management, you first need to know where the customer is right now (point A) and what the next milestone along the path to success is for them (point B). To operationalize this process, you need to intervene in the appropriate way to take the steps necessary to move that customer segment from point A to point B.
If customers take those steps themselves, that’s great. If they don’t, you need to change or escalate intervention modalities (perhaps from tech touch to human touch) to get them to take action. What starts as proactive intervention to urge customers toward their desired outcome — that is, what they need to achieve and how they need to achieve it — becomes reactive intervention to get the them back on track toward success.
Customers and vendors have a natural tendency to drift apart. While this is particularly true in the early stages of a relationship, the risk is present at every stage of the customer lifecycle.
Companies have turned to the process of customer success management to keep the customer on track toward a desired outcome that is constantly evolving as the customer matures and succeeds. It’s the “constantly evolving” part that causes vendors to ask, “Why did my customer churn out when nothing changed?” The customer evolved, but the vendor didn’t keep pace with that change and couldn’t intervene appropriately.
The front-end bot will know exactly when to intervene and what the most appropriate modality (email, chat, voice, etc.) is to move the customer toward the next success milestone. Intervention will be determined by where the customer is on their journey and their appropriate experience (determined by their market segment, demographics and psychographics, their vertical, etc.).
Through these direct customer interactions, the bot will actually “get smarter” through the underlying machine learning, thus improving future interactions with customers as well as enriching the rest of the company with deeper customer intelligence.
2. Customer success assistant bots
Proactive intervention that ensures the customer is getting value leads to increased renewal, but if done correctly, it also drives expansion (add-ons, upsells, cross-sells). This is why I refer to it not just as customer success, but as customer success-driven growth.
Through a combination of effective orchestration, operationalization, and proactive intervention, customers who achieve a success milestone that has a logical expansion opportunity associated with it are likely to take the upsell offer when presented. The key to ensuring this expansion works in a customer-positive way at scale, however, is knowing exactly the right time to present exactly the right offer.
Customer success practitioners (CSP) will rely on bots to proactively guide their intervention with customers. Bots — powered by the underlying artificial intelligence (AI) — will be able to surface expansion opportunities unique to that customer based on where they are on the path to success, news about the customer from external resources, internal organizational changes, the weather, seasonality, etc.
Today, customer success management organizations rely on playbooks designed to move each logical customer segment toward success. Instead of a playbook, AI-powered bots will create on-the-fly plays for a CSP to run with the customer in real-enough time based on what the AI knows about the customer.
Front-end and CSP assistant bots are the most obvious use cases for this technology in customer success going into 2017. Where we go from here, considering the rapid evolution of the underlying technologies, I simply can’t predict. But I, for one, welcome our new bot overlords.