Steve Barker, chief operating officer, Sitel ANZ, Sitel, told iTWire during an interview that chatbots needed to be viewed, not just as a technical novelty that was a passing trend, but as the next step in the evolution of how businesses interact with their customers.
"By investing in their development and deployment now, businesses can be sure they are providing the most relevant experience for their customers," he said.
Barker has been with Sitel, involved with omnichannel and customer experience, since 2000 and knows the impact of chatbots on call centres and the corporate bottom line.
How are chatbots helping businesses improve their customer experience?
The channels used by customers to interact with businesses have changed significantly in recent times. Where once face-to-face and phone interactions were the most popular, newer options are rapidly gaining ground.
Of all the new communication channels, the fastest-growing is instant messaging. Rather than using asynchronous options such as email, customers are looking to interact with a business via a real-time conversation or chat.
The benefits for customers are clear. Rather than having to wait for answers to queries or confirmation of transactions, they can receive information instantly. They no longer need to spend time waiting in phone queues or send repeated emails to have an issue resolved.
However, for businesses, this trend creates a challenge. They need to find an effective way to undertake real-time chat interactions with large volumes of customers simultaneously. Each customer needs to receive fast, conversational like responses that fulfill their requirements.
To overcome this challenge, growing numbers of businesses are harnessing the power of chatbots. Designed to automate the chat process, they can boost efficiency and allow multiple interactions to occur at the same time.
What is a chatbot?
A chatbot is a program that interacts automatically with a user. When used by a business, the chatbot, rather than a human, responds to incoming instant messages and provides responses.
Interest in chatbots is increasing because their capabilities are on the rise. New research and learning technologies are helping bots learn and perfect their knowledge by using databases. Increasingly, the responses provided by a chatbot in a messaging exchange are indistinguishable from those that would be given by a human being.
As they evolve (learn from experience), chatbots are able to come up with responses and content that’s relevant to the meaning that has been drawn from the user’s sentences. Rather than simply giving canned responses, this means that replies are tailored to each individual customer, thereby adding significantly more value to the exchange.
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are what’s driving this development. AI allows chatbots to understand natural language, identify meaning and emotion, and craft worthwhile responses.
Machine learning is also important as it allows a chatbot to learn from experience and from data gathered from a range of different sources. Over time, the capabilities of the chatbot continue to improve.
What are the main type of chatbots?
The number of chatbots being used by businesses and public-sector bodies is climbing rapidly, however, they can be grouped into four different categories:
- Service chatbots: These are designed, as their name suggests, to provide valuable services to customers. This could be used by an airline to respond to questions about bookings and provide copies of tickets and other documents. All this can be achieved through an instant messaging channel, rather than the customer needing to resort to email or a phone call.
- Commercial chatbots: This type of chatbot is designed to streamline purchases for customers. One example is a pizza company that deploys a chatbot that can take orders via Facebook Messenger. Customers can find their local store, select their pizza, and even pay via the Messenger platform. The bot can also inform customers of any current promotions.
- Entertainment chatbots: These chatbots are designed to keep customers engaged with their sporting team, favourite band or entertainment. They can provide details on upcoming events and ticket deals. For sports events, they can also offer the option of placing bets on outcomes, all via a messaging interface. The chatbot can also encourage customers to interact via a branded Facebook page.
- Experiential chatbots: This category covers chatbots designed to offer customers support over an extended period. One example is a chatbot that can help those trying to give up smoking. The chatbot can proactively contact people and offer support and advice tips. By reacting to their responses in real time, the chatbot can give the support exactly when it’s needed – just as they are thinking about lighting up.
The benefits to business seem obvious – replacing labour. What are the real benefits?
The proportion of people using instant messaging daily continues to grow. Indeed, for the millennial generation, web chat and social media are their primary contact channels. They want to use this channel.
With instant messaging poised to steal the lead from every other communication channel, chatbots provide brands with a huge opportunity to enrich, if not reinvent, the customer experience they offer.
Chatbots represent a new, more modern form of customer assistance. Only by being agile and experimental can a brand remain at the cutting edge of technological innovation and ahead of competitors. Chatbots provide this opportunity.
They need to be viewed, not just as a technical novelty that is a passing trend, but as they next step in the evolution of how businesses interact with their customers. By investing in their development and deployment now, businesses can be sure they are providing the most relevant experience for their customers.