Ever since Facebook expanded access to its Messenger in April’16 by giving businesses the ability to reach customers through APIs, “Chatbots” have been the buzzword in developer communities across the globe. The tech world is all agog these days about chatbots. Chatbots are automated computer programs that simulate online conversations with people to answer questions or perform tasks.
Facebook also made a major push in this area, opening up its Messenger application – and its 900 million users – to “bot” developers.
“We think you should be able to text message a business like you would send to a friend and get a quick response,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the gathering.
The idea is to create a seamless experience for end users, who can access services directly via a messaging app by chatting with a “bot,” which appears alongside their regular contacts.
“Bots” are becoming a hot topic; they offer the chance to automate specific conversations, reducing contact costs and customer effort while increasing responsiveness. We have all seen early attempts at this a few years ago with virtual agents which weren’t terribly clever, but now that type of technology is coming of age with 2nd and 3rd generation VA platforms offering compelling customer experiences. Critically the ability to integrate with self-service systems opens up a wealth of opportunities for brands to serve customers in a uniquely convenient way.
For me, all a ‘bot’ is, is a Virtual Agent that sits behind a messaging platform; so why is this so important?
The impact will be on contact channel strategy and could affect brands’ app strategy. From a contact channel perspective, when it comes to communicating with brands, customers will want to use the messaging tools they use every day e.g. Facebook Messenger, SMS, WhatsApp, etc. For each customer this channel choice will be different and over time the number of messaging channels will increase. Messaging (multiple platforms) will need to become an inherent part of brands’ Omnchannel strategy. What bots will do is offer the opportunity of automation to enable brands to handle the volume while serving customers quickly and efficiently. With bots all the simple contact types can be efficiently and expertly handled.
Chatbots as a concept is going to evolve and become meaningful. They will create more opportunities for new companies to explode from nothing into prominence. They will create many new business strategy opportunities. In my opinion, they will play a large role in online business but not every role. It will help online businesses overcome the workload of customers or seller support division of the company, resulting in more customer satisfaction if the AI-powered bot is customised and tuned rightly.
Bots have an edge over apps. For one, they don’t need to be downloaded as they reside within the messaging apps. So they can be used instantly. For another, they are easy to build and upgrade, and faster and cheaper than apps. They don’t choke your mobile by taking a lot of space like apps do.
Chat is a better medium than the phone for most people, especially younger people. But it doesn’t solve everything. An inarticulate consumer is going to be inarticulate over chat. A rep that’s having a bad day is going to be just as inflexible and unsympathetic in a chat. Changing the medium isn’t a silver bullet for customer service.
Bots can help with customer service. They can gather information for the eventual interaction with a human rep, understand exactly what happened and what the consumer wants and even be empowered to solve basic issues, automatically.
“The chat user interface is what makes sense for a mobile-first world. You can be more specific and be quicker.”
The future of customer service is making it easy for consumers to go through the medium they want (likely not the phone), have an experience that respects their time and have issues resolved quickly, ideally without involving a human at all (via intelligent software).
Eventually, chatbots will be omnipresent but initially, they will be less than perfect. AI has many linguistic and sentiment-oriented programming requirements. Those requirements are going to be different in various regions of a country like India so a universal chatbot that covers the world with glory will be several years away.