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Chatbots to the rescue

Intelligent assistants are transforming customer service

By Richard McGill Murphy

Customers today are demanding and fickle. Increasingly, they expect instant, personalized service at any hour of the day or night, on any device, anywhere in the world. A 2016 Microsoft survey found that 78% of younger consumers expect customer‑service agents to know their contacts, their product information and their service history when they call in with a problem. And they are unforgiving: the survey found 68% of 18‑ to 34‑year‑old consumers had stopped doing business with a brand after just one lousy customer‑service experience.

That pressure is pushing customer‑service organizations to the breaking point. Nearly half of all companies in the U.S. and Europe aren’t available 24/7 to respond to customer queries, according to a forthcoming ServiceNow/Devoteam survey of IT pros responsible for customer‑service delivery. A full 42% of organizations in the survey say they struggle to meet rising customer expectations. And 39% have a hard time answering routine queries in an efficient manner.

These numbers help explain why so many organizations are turning to virtual assistants and other AI tools to close the gap. One third of companies in the U.S. and Europe have introduced AI technologies in customer service, according to our survey. We found that 74% of those organizations are now able to provide always‑on customer support. Additional benefits include freeing up the time of human agents and processing high‑volume, repetitive tasks more efficiently.

Juniper Research estimates that AI‑powered chatbots will save companies $8 billion annually by 2022, which helps explain why the chatbot market is growing by 25% a year. These shifts are redefining the relationship between people and technology in customer service. Chatbots won’t replace human agents anytime soon, but AI is increasingly taking over more routine, repetitive queries. That frees humans to focus on more complex issues as well as their most important customers.

Here at ServiceNow, we use our own workflow‑automation technology to improve and accelerate customer service. Starting with our new London release, we’re also providing intelligent chatbots, called Virtual Agents, that our customers can use to automate service delivery across many enterprise functions, including IT, HR and security as well as customer service.



We use the Now Platform™ to connect customer service teams to other teams across the organization, automatically providing relevant information from a shared knowledge base and routing complex issues to the people who are best‑placed to resolve them. The business benefits we’ve seen at ServiceNow include 30% lower case growth versus customer growth and a self‑service portal that now handles 25% of all cases, lightening the burden on our service reps. Customer satisfaction has also taken a jump: we’ve seen a 13‑point rise in our Net Promoter Score from automated fixes and updates.

We’re not alone, of course. As Danny Bradbury reports nearby, AI‑powered chatbots could wind up handling most basic support requests in organizations worldwide. Already, chatbots are handling phone and even video conversations with customers, reducing the cost of customer support and providing the instant, personalized help that customers increasingly demand.

Elsewhere in this edition of Workflow, Tom McNichol explains how chatbots powered by machine‑learning algorithms are paradoxically making HR more human. By taking over routine tasks like sorting through piles of resumes, matching candidates to the right roles and tracking employee engagement, these tools free HR pros to focus on mentoring, networking and negotiating deals with high‑value candidates.

Workflow covers the evolving relationship between human and machine intelligence at work. As the stories in this edition show, there’s a lot to talk about. I hope you find our site useful—if so, please subscribe to our email newsletter to get the latest, greatest Workflow stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Richard McGill Murphy is the editor in chief of Workflow. A journalist and social anthropologist by background, he runs a research and publishing program at ServiceNow that studies how emerging technologies are shaping the future of work.

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