Automatic for the people: why intelligent chatbots matter.

Customer service continues to frustrate many consumers as companies struggle to meet their increasingly high expectations. Can chatbots help enterprises meet the demands for immediate attention and first-time resolution?

Robots don’t have a good reputation in customer service. “Please continue to hold, your call is very important to us”. It is likely that you have heard those words on many occasions when phoning a customer service number, usually said by a robotic voice in an accent intended to keep you calm and relaxed. It doesn’t necessarily work and is often cited as one of the most irritating aspects of any customer experience.

People express similar frustration with online customer service. Websites are supposed to carry the information people need, but in one survey, 46 percent of consumers said sites do not provide basic details like a store address and opening hours, and 40 percent complained that they could not get immediate answers to simple questions.

Delivering a great customer experience is now essential, no matter what industry you are in, and solving customer problems is a key part of that. In one 2016 survey, 63 percent of people said “quick issue resolution” or “issue resolution on first contact” is the most important element of a good experience.

The changing landscape

Mobility has created a new type of customer: the always-on consumer who wants to shop, interact and engage with companies in real-time and on their own terms. They demand and expect immediate responsiveness from companies with fast, reliable customer service, across multiple channels, using the latest digital tools.

As customer expectation continues to evolve, companies that want to thrive must change with it. In 2017 we expect to see a rise in contextual communications, where interactions between companies and customers are driven by the context in which they were initiated. These interactions between customer and company need to be managed holistically across all channels, using an omnichannel strategy.

Research by Aberdeen Group revealed that companies with the strongest omnichannel customer engagement strategies retain 89 percent of their customers, versus just 33 percent of companies with weak omnichannel strategies. Most customers say they get frustrated if they need to repeat issues to multiple representatives.

Chatbots offer an intelligence-based customer experience future

Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an increasingly large part in that approach, as chatbots continue to grow in sophistication, popularity and usage. Recent years have seen bot-enhanced customer support grow, thanks in part to the progress of AI and semantic learning machines, and to new digital technology that enables companies to identify and resolve customer issues through messaging services.

Bots are a technology whose time has come. Around ten years ago, virtual assistants in Live Chat apps started the evolution, but they were simple tools that responded to customer questions by pulling potential answers from a predetermined directory. This of course meant that these responses were often unhelpful, out of context or just wrong.

Over the decade since, advancements in intelligent technology, semantic learning and natural language programming (NLP) have helped create bots that can now recognize the context and intent behind a question. Add that to AI and you have a bot that now effectively ‘thinks’ rather than repeats pre-selected answers.

Thomas Rousson, Digital Inside Consulting Practice Manager at Orange Business, comments, “The advances that AI has brought to chatbots has helped make them a genuinely productive part of digital transformation now. Because chatbots can now learn, they can understand more contextual conversations with end-users and customers. That can only help add to the customer experience and have a positive impact on companies’ brands”.

AI chatbots can be the enablers of ‘conversational commerce’, a practice that takes place at the intersection of messaging apps and shopping. They can enhance customer service to give customers more control over their enquiry, and are cheaper and faster than live agents – up to 1,000 times faster in fact. And thanks to Advanced Communications – next generation messaging that takes traditional voice and SMS and enhances them with instant messaging, chat functionality, photo sharing, live video, video calling and file sharing across devices on any network - chatbots can incorporate multimedia and much more.

A few years ago, Gartner made a prediction that by 2020, 85 percent of customer interactions would be managed without a human. AI chatbots can play a key part in that transformation.

Where to from here?

Developers are making chatbots more human-like by implanting personality and thanks to NLP and semantics, making them able to learn and recognize human speech patterns and even non-verbal cues.

“I believe this is the direction that chatbots will now go in”, continues Rousson. “AI will continue to create more context-aware chatbots that learn about feelings and conversational interactions to become ‘personalities’ that interact with customers and end-users as a human would”.

AI chatbots can already serve customers in many exciting and appealing ways, but the true excitement about them comes from their potential. Messaging apps will provide the platforms of the future for customers to engage with enterprises, and it will be bots that give those users access to all kinds of services. They can give today’s most technology-savvy generation the personalized, proactive customer experience they demand.

Read about the Battle of the Chatbots on our blog and The Rise of Intelligent Agents by Orange Silicon Valley.  Discover our solutions for omnichannel customer care here.