• Artificial Intelligence
  • Nathan Sykes
  • AUG 09, 2018

The Rise of Chatbots in Business

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Customer service and support is an incredibly difficult channel to maintain and manage, despite being the least complex of business operations. At its core, the channel is simple and straightforward. You help customers with whatever they need to ensure they have the most pleasant and convenient experience possible.

If a product or service they paid for isn’t working, you deliver the necessary assistance. If they have questions about your business or offerings, you answer. If they have comments or suggestions, you listen, assess the importance and take action.

To this end, you need an army of tireless, helpful employees and representatives to interface and interact with your influx of customers. But therein lies the problem, especially in today’s landscape. Customers not only want a more contextually relevant experience, but they also want it whenever they’re ready. In other words, your customer support channels need to be open and active nearly 24/7 to accommodate customer and audience demands.

It’s just not possible, nor is it viable. As humans, we grow exhausted, bored and even irritable at times, which makes us treat others in various ways.

One technology is transforming how this process works, especially in regard to reliability and efficiency: chatbots. You might not believe it, but automated chatbots and messaging tools can supplement live support reps.

How Chatbots Fit Into Modern Customer Support Strategies

A variety of benefits go hand-in-hand with deploying chatbots and communication tools of the like.

For starters, chatbots are available 24/7 and can hand off communication to a human agent as necessary. If someone connects to make some account changes, pay a balance or even ask a question, the bot can handle it, plus more. In fact, 64 percent of Americans say that 24-hour service is the best feature chatbots provide.

Chatbots also tend to be more accurate through messaging services like Facebook Messenger and Skype, in part because they have access to more advanced and comprehensive data stores. They’re also powered by machine learning systems, which adapt and grow over time based on past and current customer interactions.

In addition, chatbots can save businesses — especially smaller companies — a lot of money that they would otherwise spend on outsourcing customer support to a provider or hiring their own in-house reps. And just due to the nature of how they work, you essentially get more for less. You’re not paying per hour or time spent with the chatbots in general, as opposed to wages that go to hourly associates and employees.

The Darker Side of Computer-Based Automation

Of course, not everything is on the up-and-up, so to speak. The widespread adoption of automation systems and tools — like chatbots — also brings up several ethical questions.

Right off the bat, where do you draw the line in regard to what data and information is harvested? Amazon Echo devices — referred to as Alexa — have been known to record people’s private conversations, which can have some serious negative repercussions down the line. Yes, Echo devices are more consumer-oriented, but that doesn’t make business- and enterprise-level systems any less concerning.

Laws and regulations have been impacted heavily by modern technologies, not the least of which from AI and machine learning — two major platforms powering chatbots.

There’s also the major question of whether or not these types of platforms will replace human workers entirely. We’re not at a stage today where humans will be removed from the equation altogether, but even supplementing these systems with chatbots lowers the demand for customer support reps and human counterparts. It’s difficult to determine how, exactly, the change will affect the market over the long term.

That said, such darker elements don’t necessarily warrant avoiding the use of chatbots and automation altogether. Rather, they’re a cautionary tale for factors we should consider going forward. How can we implement chatbots in a way that doesn’t eliminate jobs and human responsibility? We’re confident that with time, these things will not only be ironed out but optimized. But surely, they must be accurate and reliable if they’re being used to supplement or alleviate human reps, right?

How Chatbots Are Growing Smarter

Through the use of modern technologies — mainly more advanced forms of business analytics — chatbots are becoming more powerful and useful. There are the more obvious support technologies, like AI and machine learning, which work to boost cognitive computing. But other opportunities, like big data and customer metrics, are also shaping the way in which chatbots interact with the community at large.

For instance, historical data pertaining to past purchases, customer interactions and even support opportunities can help inform a bot about a particular customer. When they reach out to communicate, the bot can offer personalized recommendations and support in an instant. Imagine a bot knowing exactly why you’re getting in touch, for example.

Over time, these bots even collect and generate data of their own about customer interactions. They might pinpoint a particular reaction or communication that's making people frustrated and improve or eliminate it completely. Gone are the days of screaming into a phone trying to get a computer to understand what you’re saying. This change also means they better understand natural and more human speech. Just consider the likes of Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant or even Siri.

As a better example, Google Duplex was recently rolled out. It uses machine intelligence to deliver more accurate responses to queries and web searches.

It’s difficult to imagine where we’ll be in the next five years or so, let alone a decade from now. But one thing is certain: These kinds of automated tools and communication bots are growing smarter every day.

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