The Chatbots Are Coming
For decades, call center management has sought ways to use fewer humans and more automation in the delivery of customer support. First, it was the interactive voice response (IVR) unit, which – though it remains a staple of customer self-service – is not very popular with users. Later, it turned into lists of frequently asked questions (FAQs) on websites. Company executives posted a list of benign questions and desperately hoped that it would keep customers from calling. Today, mobile apps take some of the pressure (and the costs) off live agents.
Customers are willing to use self-service, as long as it answers their questions and feels like a natural interface. FAQ lists don’t often answer questions. While IVRs can, they are awkward to use. Mobile apps are helpful, but can be rigid in their formatting. What the contact center really needs is a self-service method that feels natural and can access all a company’s databases for an answer (and learn in the process). Enter the chatbot.
Chatbots, or virtual, automated “representatives” that interact with customers by chat, are no longer only for the Fortune 500. Thanks to increased accessibility, they’re appearing on the websites and mobile apps of companies of all sizes.
“Thanks to a slew of innovative bot ventures that focus on the user experience, small business owners are now using AI technology to improve daily operations, connect with clients and increase sales,” wrote Business News Daily’s Mona Bushnell. “Many small businesses are investing in custom AI chatbots to interact with customers, answer FAQs and even process payments. Rather than spending the time and money to respond individually to every inquiry, savvy business owners are streamlining the process with friendly bots that act as the first line of communication with customers.”
Unlike the IVR, chatbots are fast-paced, intuitive, easy to interact with (we all know how to text or chat) and able to learn thanks to machine learning technology. Facebook (News - Alert) Messenger, which lies at the core of many companies’ chatbots, has attracted tens of thousands of developers who improve on the Messenger bot technology daily. Messaging apps WhatsApp and Kik have also contributed significantly to the advancement of chatbots.
“We're talking about advanced technologies powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning that can actually listen and provide relevant material in return,” wrote Forbes’ Blake Morgan. “These are bots that can have actual conversations, and make consumers lives better.”
Many experts ultimately believe that chatbots will replace the search window. Just as some iPhone (News - Alert) users regularly bypass opening a browser window and initiate a search by “asking Siri,” chatbot users will launch these virtual assistants to perform a variety of tasks even beyond customer support. As customers become more used to using them, their relevance to the customer experience will gain even more ground.
If you’d like to learn more about chatbots, be sure to check out TMC (News - Alert) and Crossfire Media’s newest conference and expo, Communications 20/20, happening July 18-20 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The event will focus on the next wave of technology and innovations that will transcend the importance of person to person contact, disrupting the future of the entire communications industry. Find out more HERE.
Edited by Alicia Young