Chatbots are the biggest technology disruptor in the customer service scene. They’re the talking point of every contact centre, every support team and every digital business across the globe. But that doesn’t mean everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet.
For all their utility, chatbots cause colossal discord. Do they represent a sweeping AI takeover? Are they here to wipe out jobs? A service cop-out for businesses? A poor substitute for humans? Or are chatbots a welcome revolution?
With all the buzz around bots, it’s understandable why misperception abounds. So, let’s answer the big question: chatbots — what are they good for? (Hint: it’s not absolutely nothing.)
Logically, if you want to build a business online, you want to build where the people are. That place is now inside messenger apps.
Defining the chatbot
A chatbot is, more or less, precisely what it says on the tin. Capable of simulating conversations with human users, a chatbot is a piece of software that can talk to users and perform relevant tasks.
Ordinarily, chatbots are powered by rules. (If the customer says this, you do that.) In advanced deployments, chatbots are powered by artificial intelligence and use machine learning to detect more complex conversational cadences.
So, the chatbot is a program of varying intelligence that users can interact with via a chat interface.
Chatbots lower the barriers to continuous user engagement.
Chat might not sound all that important. After all, we’ve all seen talking tech such as Clippy and SmarterChild fall into insignificance. The chatbots of today are different — and they’re here to stay.
Now, chatbots can competently handle more and more customer service requests. For small and large businesses alike, bots are a breakthrough in terms of availability, engagement, and alleviation. They work constantly and consistently, and can assist online customers 24/7/365.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that they should.
Allocating resources towards a new technology requires an in-depth analysis of how the technology, its ecosystem, and customer needs might evolve.
Chatbots — not for all-purpose chatting
Chatbots should be used for chats, yes, but not for general ones. Or at least, not yet. The nuances of a broad customer conversation are still best left to human agents, who can talk freely cross-topic and easily pick up on shades of tone, mood, and humour.
Today’s chatbots work best when used specifically. They’re great for routine tasks and commonly asked questions. That’s where they’re capable and convenient, and that’s where they can save you time and resource.
But what does that look like in action?
More than 80% of chat sessions could be resolved by a chatbot.
Chatbots as receptionists
At present, your website (probably) doesn’t have a receptionist. A chatbot could give it one.
So, a visitor lands on your website. That bot could be programmed to greet them upon entry, either with a simple hello message or with the offer of directing them to what they’re looking for onsite.
In terms of engagement, conversations are better than static web forms. A chatbot can talk to the website visitor to take their name and need, and then act accordingly. It might be passing them through to a human agent, updating them while they wait in a chat queue, sending them to the page they need, or suggesting relevant content.
Either way, the user gets a fluid receptionist service that creates a conversational journey.
More than 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human by 2020.
Chatbots as account clerks
The chatbot journey needn’t end at this early stage. After this receptionist service, a bot can also function as a basic account clerk.
Chatbots can take a user’s details and check their account to retrieve information — such as delivery status or billing dates. Or, they can perform basic tasks like password resets and contact detail updates. For these kinds of routine, repetitive account chores, chatbots are an effective (and often invisible) service tool.
Nowadays, paying human agents to perform simple tasks is regressive. For your people, your productivity and your profits alike, it’s better to leave the robotic tasks to the bots.
Chatbots will save businesses over $8 billion per year by 2022.
Chatbots as salespeople
Your website is your digital showroom. It stands to reason that you’d want someone to work its floor night and day. Enter chatbots.
A chatbot could be programmed to start conversations based on what a user is browsing, such as a feature set or price list. Or, it could be used as a handy checkout tool. So, for example, a visitor could quickly type an item name into a bot, and then have that bot take the item through to cart, suggest deals or answer any product questions.
Again, all this is fluid and conversational. Instead of navigating a website, the visitor is conversing with it to receive an interactional in-store experience, online.
We think you should message a business just the way you would message a friend.
Chatbots as shop assistants
Most of the queries you’ll get through your website will be straightforward FAQ. It might be a returns policy, it might be an unsubscribe request, or it might be a question about features. Whatever your website, it’s bound to generate a set of questions that users typically ask.
So, why waste time manually retyping the answers? With a chatbot deployed on your website, all those FAQ can be answered effortlessly. Plus, they’ll be accurate as well as instant.
Used like this, chatbots are a convenient shop assistant, at hand to help users and fill in any gaps in their knowledge.
Chatbots are expected to be the top consumer application of AI over the next five years.
It’s undeniable: chatbots open up phenomenal opportunities to cut costs, drive efficiencies and power round the clock service. But it’s important to remember their limitations.
Bots should be used with care and with caution. It’s important to start off small, and use bots for a simple, core set of use cases with minimal odds of mistakes.
Take the above examples. They’re all defined, specific, and relatively unambitious. Widening your scope too soon invites error, and could cause you to lose control over the customer experience and frustrate users. Deploy chatbots by all means, but don’t utterly depend on them.
Texting to a computer that doesn’t understand many things you are saying can be very aggravating. So be careful early not to over promise, and give users guard rails.
Keeping it real
This is where the role of your agents becomes important. Don’t bump bots for agents or vice versa: blend them together.
Chatbots and agents work better as a tag-team. Combined, they whizz through more interactions, more efficiently. Integrating bots and agents means that the end user gets a quick, slick experience — without any friction or frustration.
The customer starts off talking to a bot, for example. The bot answers a basic question, but can’t handle a more complex one. So, seamlessly and within a single thread, the chat is transferred to an agent who then takes over. Once back in a more routine wrap-up, the bot then steps back in smoothly and subtly.
This way, the bot can deal with easy queries that can be automated, while agents can oversee activity and focus their energies on tasks that need the human touch. It’s the perfect blend of automation and engagement.
People are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media and that is a huge turning point. Messaging apps are the platforms of the future and bots will be how their users access all sorts of services.
Deploying a chatbot now helps future-proof your business. That doesn’t mean you should jump right in.
Before you bot, take the time to do some research both internally and externally. Find out where a bot would be useful for your business, and how you can use it to streamline your service. Speak to your agents, analyse your data, and assess your options. Only then should you move forward with a chatbot pilot.
After that, the payoffs are rich. Without mincing any words, businesses who bot now bank later. Provided you take all necessary precautions, implementing chatbots into your customer service strategy helps you better support your customers today, and better position yourself for tomorrow.