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The Changing Face of Customer Service

Think back for a moment to that distant time when customer service was something only available during business hours in the time zone where a company was located. As companies expanded into the world, so did the demand for 24/7 customer service. This led to the dreaded outsourcing of call centers, and the only technical documentation available was the printout in the box, which often didn’t make sense in any of the languages printed on there.

A two-fold approach

Now we see the next evolution in customer service. More and more people are going to technical documentation for solutions. Many, especially the younger generation, prefer to solve problems on their own without having to talk to someone. When they do need more information to solve a problem they might find themselves interacting with a chatbot.

The rise of the chatbot

Chatbots, seemingly, came into their own with our smartphones and digital assistants. However, they’ve been around for much longer than that.

The very first iteration of a chatbot was Eliza back in 1966. Eliza was an early natural language processing computer program designed to mimic human conversation by matching user prompts to pre-scripted responses. Sadly, Eliza, failed the Turing test: a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. But Eliza’s advances in technology opened the door for further development. (Though we’ll skip over Tay; an extreme cautionary tale to not let your bot grow up online.)

For a brief history of chatbots, we suggest you look here.

Even though chatbots have been around for some time now, in many ways, the bots of today are still in their infancy. We’re teaching them natural language recognition and programming them with a variety of responses to teach the neural networks, so they start learning what kind of response goes with which type of question.

It’s a slow and methodical process that requires double checking to make sure some writer didn’t get cute writing a programmed response that could get the company in trouble, and double checking the code that powers the system.

We expect to see considerable advances in chatbots and an evolution in their development as the technology builds on AI. More companies are joining in and applying skills and technologies they’ve mastered in fields such as neural machine translation or smartphone digital assistants. In many ways, it is still a wide-open field.

Technical documentation – the other half of the equation

Technical documentation is a great source of information a chatbot will pull data from, especially when it’s stored in a Component Content Management System (CCMS), which enables storage of information in small bite-sized chunks. The chatbot’s responses will only be as good as that technical documentation they have access to. We cannot overstate the value of good tech docs and a CCMS to the overall customer service experience you offer.

In a recent Customer Experience Survey, we learned that only about 8% of respondents felt that an actual customer service department was an important consideration in their purchase decision. In this infographic, we learn that 73% of people wish companies had some way for them to solve customer service issues on their own. More than 90% of customers expect a company to have some sort of self-serve customer service portal or at the very least a Frequently Asked Questions page.

Elements of good technical documentation

Just writing down the specs and operating instructions is not enough. Especially if written in a highly technical language. It needs to be a complete package of information and how-to in an easy-to-read format.

For documentation that supports your customer service and chatbot, you will need to make sure it is organized, categorized, localized and updated in real-time to meet changing demands and product updates. A good content management system will provide the technological backbone that underpins all your documentation and support systems.

The power of comments

Why do we bring up comments and share options for your technical documentation? As you may have read in a previous blog post at SDL.com, the Millennial generation, in particular, tends to share content and comment on it. That goes for your customer service too; it will be reviewed and discussed online. Reviews and likes are an important tool to help boost your business and your reputation, therefore having the right information for your customers, in an easy-to-navigate system and available with a few clicks or key words is essential.

Teach your bot well and keep your technical documentation up to date.