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Editors Choice

Does Using Customer Service Chatbots Really Help Businesses Stay Green?

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For many companies today, artificial intelligence has changed how they approach their work. With AI-powered tools like machine learning, companies have been able to automate more time-intensive tasks.

AI helps businesses in countless ways. Chatbots serve as automated customer support agents who talk with customers through an instant messenger or texting interface. Many businesses look into developing their chatbots for various reasons. But is it making them greener?

Customer service teams have costs

Traditionally, companies who need a dedicated customer service team have to make substantial investments upfront. As Amit Sood, Chief Technology Officer and Head of Product at customer service developer Simplr, noted, major businesses can’t operate with an employee answering phone calls or maintaining a social media page.

Instead, companies now have to take a multi-platform approach to their customer service strategy. This includes increasing service hours over platforms like chat, phone, email and social media. In addition, companies also have to invest in hiring managers and training agents to staff their customer support teams and develop scheduling strategies for high-volume call times. On the personnel side, companies who want an in-house support team need to dedicate resources to facilities and in high-cost cities. This methodology can potentially include renting office space or moving the team out-of-state.

“The biggest pitfall is not realizing the effort that goes into managing customer service operations.” Sood said.

Once a company has decided on a customer service staffing strategy, they’ll still have to consider the costs for staffing a team. According to Upwork, hourly rates for US-based, intermediate customer service agents can range from $10 to $65 per hour. The rates largely depend on the type of work assigned. While outsourced call centers sometimes offer cheaper per-agent rates, they also require minimum contract amounts that put a ceiling on potential savings.

Chatbots offer green savings

Chatbots can help streamline many costs of a traditional customer service team. Besides bottom line savings, chatbots can also improve a company’s environmental footprint and reduce its green impact in several areas.

Save on power costs: Whether a company’s customer service team is in-house or outsourced, it still costs a significant amount to keep the group running. For a typical retailer, a customer service team of 30 agents typically costs roughly $300 per month just to power their desktop computers throughout a 12-hour shift. For in-house staffers, businesses will have to spend even more on electricity to run their office space.

Chatbots can trim power demands for businesses by improving the efficiency of their customer service teams. Instead of requiring a sizable team or office full of staffers for every type of customer service issue, chatbots can automatically take care of basic issues like shipping or product questions and forward more difficult questions to human agents. With these more efficient teams, companies won’t need to dedicate as much leased space for staff. Additionally, they can minimize the amount of power they need to draw.

Smarter office, smaller material needs: Environmentally, office workers have always had a sizable footprint, thanks to consumables like papers. Footprint size can range from standard print jobs to larger materials printed by other companies.

According to a 2013 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate, the average U.S. office worker uses 10,000 sheets of paper every year. With the reduced staffing needs that chatbots can offer, offices won’t need to consume as much paper for their daily operations. Similarly, chatbots can also help out sales teams and other direct customer service agents by reducing their paper overhead. Instead of needing to print out documents for brochures and other literature, these agents can use chatbots to provide said information to customers, instead.

Reducing commute impact: For companies with in-house customer service teams, commuting costs impact the environment in several areas. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, workers had an average commute of around 26 minutes to get to work. Within major metropolitan areas, this time rose to around 35 minutes. During commute time, workers who have to drive themselves to the office for work also increased their environmental footprint with higher air pollution levels. The EPA estimates that a typical car produces around 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Chatbots minimize this environmental cost because they improve the efficiency of existing customer service teams. Because chatbots can automatically handle simple customer questions, customer service teams are more streamlined. This improvement reduces the number of employees who have to drive to work. In many cases, some of these employees can work remotely or exclusively from home, which similarly improves a company’s environmental impact.

Chatbots allow companies to save, work smarter

For companies, the biggest upside that AI-powered tools like chatbots can offer is expanded efficiency. Having to dedicate valuable time to finding, hiring and training customer service agents for entry-level tasks has been a long-time albatross for companies. According to Simplr, customer service employees see an estimated turnover rate of around 30 to 45 percent annually. But thanks to chatbots, these companies can focus resources towards other longer-term concerns.

Environmentally, chatbots are a tool businesses can use to improve their carbon footprint. By themselves, chatbots won’t necessarily be a one-step tool to shrink a company’s costs. As Sood notes, small to mid-sized companies have struggled to see the savings from traditional customer service models at scale, though chatbot platforms can help minimize this gap.

When it comes to improving the environment on a corporate-wide level, the smartest green-conscious businesses understand that these types of programs work incrementally. Through steps such as reducing the amount of paper customer service teams need, the amount of power they require or the time they spend in cars getting to work, businesses can use chatbots to make a positive impact on the environment.

Hilary is a health and wellness consultant and journalist based in Utah. She's written for publications like Today, PurposeFairy, KSL News, and Girls' Life, and she's been quoted for her expertise in publications like Reader's Digest, Mamapedia, and Best Life. She specializes in sleep technology and science, family health and wellness and sleep disorders.