Calling the customer experience “an afterthought” is an oversimplification of what’s happening in most companies. It’s actually a complex imbalance between the preference to acquire a customer base and the opportunities hidden in customer retention.

From post-purchase and product or service use to cancellation, companies have within their reach a customer base willing to rally around the brand and share critical clues into emerging market trends. Businesses that step up to this challenge and increase customer retention by 5% are the ones that can boost company profitability by 75%, as cited by Bain & Company.

Knowing what’s at stake, it’s no wonder that, according to “The Future of Chatbots Report,” 72% of participating executives in an SAP Hybris survey indicated near-term deployment plans or serious consideration into chatbot technology to automate customer service. But even though the digital-assistant technology delivers credibly human experiences, the role of humans will still be involved 44% of the time, according to Gartner.

Intelligent, analytical, and nothing less than truly human

Chatbot technologies are an increasingly attractive proposition to businesses for many reasons. Blending machine learning, intelligence, natural language processing, and mobile access, these digital assistants can automate repetitive tasks, increase service availability, and reduce operational costs. But more importantly, they can give human agents the freedom to handle more challenging, one-of-a-kind customer issues that can further cement customer loyalty and trust.

Just think about why customers go elsewhere after purchasing a product for the first, tenth, or twentieth time. Poor product quality, inconsistent stocking, or better competitor offerings may play a factor. However, the real deal-breaker is when customers believe the brand no longer cares about them.

As brands push customers towards chatbot-enabled self-service channels, the front-line service team is freed to engage with customers with less frequent, highly complicated issues. And these moments often count most for customers since the human agent on the other end of the interaction may be their only point of contact to the company.

The SAP Hybris report echoes the importance of striking a balance between the availability of human contact and chatbot interaction. Nearly half of respondents believe their customers prefer access to human employees most of the time and use chatbots for simple tasks.

What do you want the future of the customer experience to be?

One of the best pieces of advice about the balance between human and machine can be found in the article “The Humanity in the Machine.” Martin Wezowski, chief designer and futurist for the Chief Innovation Office at SAP, thoughtfully shares, “Once AI-based systems take the weight of routine off employees’ shoulders, we will be able to be more social, more human, and more inventive.”

Social, more human, and more inventive – shouldn’t all companies deliver a customer experience that could be described with those words? Businesses need to remember that the purpose of sales and customer service channels is to support the customer. And while chatbots can be highly effective tools, customers should not be forced to engage with them and should also have a direct line to a live human being when and where they want it.

Learn more about why chatbots enhance your customer journey in Brain Power, Bot Power, Buying Power.