Chatbots, computer programmes you can interact with by ‘chatting’ using messaging apps for example, are changing the way that organisations communicate with customers.
In today’s digital age where customer loyalty is everything, revolutionising the way that we interact with customers is imperative. Chatbots can help to turn customers into loyal brand followers. But what is its most exciting feature? In one word - personalisation.
Rise of the bots
Talking to chatbots is just like messaging a friend. It allows consumers to have a one-on-one conversation with a brand. This gives brands an opportunity to deliver a completely customised, personalised experience based on the customer’s unique requests.
Chatbots rely on deep learning, the ability to adapt to human behaviour over time. As they ‘learn’ using artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, the algorithm gets smarter and becomes more human. This means the chatbot can remember past conversations and store data that can be used to improve future interactions.
Some people think that chatbots are impersonal. But getting the tone and sentiment right can have exactly the opposite effect. The technology has the potential to create relevant and contextual conversations by addressing unique customer requests instantly without the need for them to visit a website, download an app or ring a call centre.
In time, we predict it will be perfectly normal to have conversations with a range of organisations via chatbots over messaging apps in the same way you would message your friends or family. The goal for developers is that we get to a place where a customer can’t tell the difference between machine and human.
The human bit is really important. It’s important for developers to continue to upgrade platforms and services with greater features and functionality to deliver a human-like experience. While developing the bot is easy, getting the conversations right is the hard part.
The technology challenges that need to be overcome is to ensure that chatbots are supported across multiple messaging applications. To do this, conversational models that support various formatting functions and features is critical. This is particularly important for brands looking to use chatbots across other channels – not just messaging apps. The technology has the potential to improve customer service for thousands of organisations. For one it offers a far superior option to the interactive voice response (IVR) technology used by many companies to deal with inbound calls.
Realising the business impact of implementing chatbot technology
Even simple interactions could have an impact on businesses. Instead of waiting in a long phone queue to tell someone you’re moving house, for example, it could all be done in a few minutes by tapping a message on WhatsApp. With more consumers taking to social networks to air complaints, chatbots offer a viable alternative to respond quickly online at peak times. In fact, messages left for brands on social networks often go unanswered or the company can take days to get back. Rail companies, for example, often struggle to deal with influxes of questions and complaints where there are just a few humans at the other end of a computer trying to answer everyone’s query individually.
For companies still at the beginning of their digital journey, there are good resources out there to help a company get started today. Businesses should weigh several factors when deploying a chatbot, including assigning it the right issue, measuring customer experiences, and using the appropriate personality.
Many businesses are starting to listen. In telecommunications and technology, banking and financial services, retail and consumer goods and travel and hospitality, companies are racing to enhance their customers’ digital experience through chatbot applications. Chatbots have demonstrated success in three areas: customer service and tech support, aiding purchase decisions and delivering workplace and personal assistance.
Not just messaging apps
There are a number of other applications beyond messaging apps. Chatbots can be used in a closed communication environment such as employee training by advising employees in real time about customer interactions. The technology has the potential to automate farming activities, replace the clip board and paper patients need to fill out when registering with a GP or replacing a map with directions in a mall or an amusement park.
All of these applications don’t have to be limited to your mobile. The technology could be used on tablets and wearables as well. As they mature, we could also see the technology used by robotic industrial equipment, video learning systems, retail kiosks and point of sale terminals.
Not a catch all
But they don’t do anything and everything. To be successful organisations need to consider the experience first. It’s important for brands not to limit the technology to just one platform but rather look at how they can deliver a better, more personal, experience to customers across many touch points.
For organisations with long queues, busy call centres or seasonal online peaks in traffic, chatbots offer an excellent way to deliver better customer service by answering questions quickly and accurately. But, there will still be the need for them to have ‘human colleagues’ to deal with more complex queries.
Without an integrated backend, chatbots will remain basic and won’t meet customer expectations or drive meaningful business benefits. But the potential to better understand customers through conversational engagement – and deliver a more personalised service – is monumental.
Craig Besnoy, Principal Consultant, Mindtree
Image source: Shutterstock/Montri Nipitvittaya