How chatbots will change the way companies interact with customers

By KT Prasad

  • 29 Jan 2018

With the growth of mobile technologies, the consumer expects greater responsiveness from companies round the clock. Brands are, therefore, expected to deliver swift and consistent customer service across various channels.

Transferring messages to traditional help desks have customarily resulted in longer waiting periods for customers and often a confusing experience for support representatives. This marks the entry of a modern-day game-changer, the ‘chatbots’.

Chatbots are tech-enabled assistants that are equipped to facilitate customer service engagement by ensuring straightforward and quick-responses, thereby freeing up valuable time for personnel to concentrate on more complex demands.

In the last couple of years alone, the use of bot-enhanced customer support has been on the rise, largely due to pioneering technologies that allows businesses to identify and resolve customer grievances through messaging services. As the popularity of these bots increase, experts are speculating whether this technology is here to stay. While the debate will most likely go on for a while, here are a few points that businesses should keep in mind when they invest in bot-enhanced support for their businesses.

Bots are dynamic and evolving

Bot development has undergone a lot of changes since the mid-2000s when virtual assistants in ‘live chat’ were the latest fad. Back then, customer queries were answered by drawing from a set inventory of responses. Inevitably, these responses were often unhelpful or out of context. Studying those initial bot interactions led to a major evolution in intelligent technology, paving the way for advances in Natural Language Understanding (NLU). This allows processes to comprehend the meaning and intent behind inbound questions before responding. Paired with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), the present technology is enabling bots to ‘think’ rather than simply repeat pre-allocated answers. Artificial intelligence also powers tools like ‘deep learning,’ which can analyse public customer information, thereby empowering bots to provide the ultimate customer service experience.

Twitter was one of the very first platforms to adopt social messaging for business-to-consumer (B2C) communication. Companies like Facebook, Amazon and Apple have since followed suit and opened their platforms to bot and app developers.

With the public displaying clear symptoms of ‘app fatigue’, it is anticipated that chatbots will provide a gateway for brands that intend to engage with their customers on a far more personal level. While the technology is far from being flawless, it is clearly a sign of the immense opportunities in customer support services.

Bots and humans - the ideal relationship

‘Perfect customer service’ offers the best of ‘bots and humans’. The bottom line is that when a customer reaches the pinnacle of frustration an automated response simply will not do. There will undoubtedly be certain situations for which bots just aren’t trained to handle. Companies need to decide as to which situations work best for automation and which situations require human intervention.

Human responses are vital in preparing bots to respond to the ‘tougher’ queries. Interactions between representatives and customers offer an inventory of answers for bots to learn from. The support products of the future will indicate to human operators when the AI’s confidence level is low. By taking over in such circumstances, the human agents will not merely assist the customer but their responses will also help the AI learn and develop further. Over time, this resident knowledge can systematically amplify the bot’s ability.

All bots are not equal

When it comes to choosing the right chatbot for your business, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Companies need to make sure that the bots they integrate possess the scale, technology and intelligence to conduct their tasks smoothly. As is the case with all customer service interactions, it is imperative to comprehend the user’s intent in order to provide the best support. This could take a lot more than the simple preformatted responses that a lower-tech bot provides. Instead it might call for a messaging platform that incorporates customer records and efficiently employs powerful automation, integration and analytics.

Messaging is touted as the favoured customer communication channel of the future since it is more prompt than email and more convenient than calling the company or going to the website in order to do live chat. Whether deploying tools to help restructure questions for a small-scale business or providing 24/7 services for an international corporation, bots should have speedy response times and be able to handle a high volume of interactions.

Today, customers expect increasingly high levels of personalisation. For many companies, this first stage of bot-enhanced support has allowed them to reach customers wherever they may be. At this point, bot technology is certainly headed in the right direction but there is undoubtedly a long way to go in achieving the level of perfection that customers have come to expect. With this rapidly evolving technology, a focus on the human aspect and a strategy to deploy chats at scale, the future is no doubt bright for chatbots.

KT Prasad is country sales director at Zendesk India. Views are personal.

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