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Are Chatbots the Next Big Thing?

 

Chatbots — automated conversation systems — are in … and they have reached the point that you should investigate them. Why? 

Chatbots are an opportunity for your company to engage with your customers, gather data, and improve your marketing and customer care efforts. They've become increasingly sophisticated. But you're pushing back, thinking there's a lot of AI hype out there. You also may have the nagging sense that machines may not treat your customers right. What to do?

Let's step back and look the chatbot terrain over. Chatbots include everything from Amazon's Alexa and other smart speakers to automated text chat on companies' customer service pages. The most powerful chatbots are virtual agents powered by an artificial intelligence that understands and answers a wide variety of customer questions.

Virtual agents scan a customer's request and combine that with any information that's available to them, such as past purchases, account settings and geographic location. They identify the customer's intent — what the customer is trying to accomplish. For example, if a client calls a telecom firm, the intent may be to fix his or her nonworking service or reset a password.

Once the bot has identified the intent, it responds with a script intended to solve the problem. Here are the positives:

  • It can reduce costs.
  • It can improve customers' experiences.
  • Bots are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Bots answer some questions more quickly than human agents can or do.
  • Properly designed virtual agents can improve customer satisfaction.

What factors should you consider before jumping to integrate chatbots into your existing customer service system, and which distribution channels would work best?

  • Virtual agents are most effective in service-heavy industries such as financial services, retail, travel and telecom.
  • You need to determine whether you have the scale to make this worthwhile. For example, is your firm fielding thousands of customer calls using contact centers with hundreds of agents? If so, you need the data from your contact center to train the AI that powers the chatbot.
  • Development typically takes months and can ultimately impact your customers and employees.
  • If your firm handles a high volume of service requests, it will be worth the effort.

The hype that's not quite true:

  • Despite the stories being spun about conversational commerce, customer service applications are more successful than sales applications. Only 2% of owners of Alexa-powered Amazon smart speakers have ever bought anything with their devices. Sales applications typically require navigating lots of choices — such as picking a book on Amazon or a flight on Expedia — an iterative process that right now is far more easily handled with an app or a website. Sales applications have flopped because they were too complex to automate effectively.

Conversational platforms get all the press these days — think Facebook and its Messenger. Amazon announced that it sold more than 100 million Alexa devices in 2018. You may be thinking that you'd like to tap into that base — there are 300,000 chatbots on Facebook Messenger and 50,000 Alexa skills — applications that run on Alexa smart speakers.

There's a lot to consider. Obviously, chatbots will improve with time, expanding the number of intents they can recognize. You will have to research which are the right applications with the right objectives and the right channels to maximize success.

The bottom line? Even though chatbots may not be right for you now, keep an eye on them, because the future usually comes more quickly than we expect.

 
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Erickson, Brown & Kloster, P.C.
Erickson, Brown & Kloster P.C.
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