Chatbots: The next step in the evolution of contact centres

‘Chatbots’, or ‘chatter robots’, are computer programmes that mimic conversations with people using artificial intelligence. According to the BBC , the very first chatbot is widely believed to have been invented in the 1960s by Joseph Wiezenbaum at MIT's artificial intelligence laboratory. ‘Eliza’ was able to process natural language and posed as a therapist although she only had rudimentary skills and answered a lot of questions with other questions! After that, chatbots seemed to have disappeared off the planet or considered an element of science fiction. So why, 50 years on, are chatbots the latest hot topic? Why have they taken so long to become a reality?

Chatbots: Why now?

Firstly, advances in technology and recent developments in artificial intelligence, such as deep learning and neural networks, have allowed chatbots to learn from data sets and mimic the way the human brain works.

Secondly, thanks to the rise of mobile texting and messaging apps, chatbots are causing a stir in the world of customer service. Business Insider UK recently wrote that the most powerful tech companies think chatbots are the next best thing since the iPhone. Supergiant Facebook is rumoured to be launching a 'bot store' - a move which could be as revolutionary for technology as when Apple launched the App Store. The world’s largest social media networking site also allows businesses to deliver automated customer support, e-commerce guidance, content, and interactive experiences through chatbots on Facebook Messenger. Facebook isn’t the only chatbot game in town, but because Messenger has a reach of around 900 million users, plus vast connections with advertisers and a healthy developer ecosystem, it provides the most attractive platform on which to implement bots.

What do chatbots mean for contact centres and their customers?

This is not science fiction. ‘Bots’ are the next step in the evolution of the Internet, are fast transforming the way people interact, and are the future of customer service. After all, the millennial generation has come of age and is old enough to make a significant dent on consumer spending. These tech-savvy individuals have high expectations and demand round-the-clock service as well as an instant response. Automation and self-service are the way to go, making chatbots an important part of today’s multichannel contact centre environment.

Just take a look at some of the ways the use of chatbots can make customer communication easier:

Contextual, convenient, and in control

Chatbots for Facebook Messenger are focused on creating the best and most engaging customer experience. They can provide anything from automated subscription content, such as weather and traffic updates, to customised communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages.

Powerful discovery tools

Such as usernames for Messenger, help people find businesses on both Facebook and Messenger, so they can connect with and message the businesses they’re interested in more easily.

Personalising the experience

Messenger Greetings are customisable notes from a business that appear in a new message thread before messages are sent. Businesses can use this text to greet people and set a friendly tone while letting people know what types of messages are expected. Chatbots make it possible to offer a more personal, more proactive, and more streamlined customer experience.

Puts customers in control

Like Facebook, customers can mute and block communications that they don’t want to receive and they can spend more time interacting with you.

Easy configuration

An important one for CFOs looking to keep costs at a minimum, a special bot engine enables developers to save time and money by making changes themselves.

What about agents? Don’t forget the humans!

Chatbots are rather like having your own virtual butler. They can tell you what the weather is like, order a taxi, set up meetings, shop, and book flights. Plus, many people prefer dealing with bots on websites rather than humans on the phone and big businesses are following suit. High profile companies, including Lloyds bank, Renault, and a host of accounting firms, retailers, and local governments, are starting to use all types of virtual assistants to guide users through their websites. Research firm Gartner estimates that up to 85 per cent of customer service centres will go virtual by 2020.

The automation of customer service has been widely implemented by contact centres for many years. Chatbots add a new dimension to the contact centre which also means fresh challenges for contact centres including:

Greater demand for skilled agents

As customer service becomes more and more automated, the tasks and enquiries that actually require personal handling are likely to become more advanced and necessitate a higher set of skills from contact centre agents.

Good training is essential

And will become even more important as experience and knowledge will be a premium when dealing with complex or delicate customer enquires which cannot be answered by a robot.

Get the work/life balance right

The best way to build customer engagement and loyalty will be via happy, knowledgeable contact centre agents with a work/life balance that suits them best. Therefore, a sophisticated yet easy to use workforce management solution is essential.

Make workforce management technology work for you

Through advanced forecasting, scheduling and competence management the humans in contact centres will remain more productive and valuable than bots will ever be.

We believe a combination of bots and well scheduled human agents, with the right skills, could be today’s silver bullet solution for effective customer service. Now is the time to take chatbots seriously.

Magnus Geverts at Teleopti