Zoho's new customer service tool combines bots, human intervention

The cloud software company is aiming to meet the changing customer service needs of consumers with its new blended conversations tool.


SaaS provider Zoho has launched several new tools for Zoho Desk, the principal application in the company's customer service platform, including so-called blended conversation—a combined human-driven and bot-powered conversational service—as well as several refinements to its user interface to better support customers with accessibility needs.

Over the last few year in the customer service industry, there’s been a drastic shift toward making self-service the baseline, said Prashanth Krishnaswami, head of market strategy at Zoho, adding that although the industry expected to see some changes, the pace at which they took place caught some off guard.

“A lot of the aspects of a customer being able to manage their relationship with a brand has been made available on self-service in the last two or three years, way more than was there before the pandemic,” he said.

As a result, Zoho has made self-service a priority, and in order to help organizations better serve up the customer service experience consumers want, Zoho has added a number of new capabilities to its Zoho Desk offering.

The first new tool is blended conversations, which combines Zoho's Instant Messaging (IM) Framework and its guided conversations tool to balance human intervention with bot-powered automation to help customer service agents deliver the best experience for consumers.

The guided conversations feature was launched by Zoho in 2021 and functions as a low code, self-service platform that allows organizations to create virtual agents to guide customers through the initial stages of inquiries.

“It's not exactly breaking news that customers prefer conversational channels when getting a service from brands,” Krishnaswami said. However, while bots can be the source of some customer frustration, Krishnaswami explains they have a key role to play in the customer service process, as they’re able to help consumers troubleshoot their own issues via bot self-serviceability, ensuring higher priority customer needs to be address quickly.

“Bots are actually good at addressing many challenges, but customers hate the impersonal experience that they get when a bot is left in charge of the overall experience,” he said. “Bots are also commonly designed to run through the entire flow independently and not really work in tandem with human agents on a conversation with the customer.”

The new blended conversations tool will allow agents to delegate the majority of manual and transactional tasks to bots, while remaining in control of the overall service experience. Meanwhile, the IM Framework can integrate any messaging service with Zoho Desk, and comes pre-integrated with services like WhatsApp, Telegram, Line, WeChat, Messenger, and Instagram, with more to be announced in the future.

Krishnaswami said Zoho believes that this tool is the “true middle ground” as it brings together the bot and the human agent to offer a “truly seamless” experience for the customer.

In addition to blended conversations, Zoho has also announced an overhaul of its user interface to make it simpler, faster, and more accessible to users with a wide spectrum of different needs. Updates include options to support: cognitive and dyslexia challenges; visual impairments including astigmatism; animation reduction for those with seizure disorders; customization capabilities for color-blindness.

Krishnaswami said that over the last few years the customer service industry has started to see experience become a key differentiator for brands across the board, with customer expectations continuing to rise.

“Previously, much of the focus was on customer satisfaction or customer happiness, which is just the last mile of measuring the experience itself,” he said.

Now, brands are understanding that the experience has to be end-to-end, meaning the customer service component is more important now than it has ever really been.


Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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