Chatbots Strike Back – 4 Observations on the Emerging Role of Chatbots for Business

Chatbots no longer have an identity crisis

Here at InteliWISE, we first started building bots almost 10 years ago for pioneering enterprise customers like Orange, Central Bank and Kraft Foods. At the time, we had many internal debates over what to call this new technology: Avatar? Virtual Assistant? Virtual Consultant? We liked anything but “Chatbot”, which just seemed too closely associated with home-made, automated chats. Yet, here we are in 2016 and we’ve finally forced ourselves to use the name “Chatbot” to describe our automated, intelligent customer service. And it turns out, Bots for Business are hot. Some even call them “the hottest customer service technology in 2016”.

Chatbots might be your newest sales “hire”

Facebook and Google are constantly looking for ways to keep people using their apps, especially their mobile apps. To those powerhouse players, Virtual Assistants have quickly become an attractive add-on that could actually change the way users browse for information, hire on-line services and make purchases. Recently, a significant portion of the consumer base has begun switching from desktop browsers to mobile applications like Facebook.  In this setting, the Chatterbot’s role is to monetize those visits by enabling shopping, reservations, and registrations—all without leaving the mobile application. At a recent developers’ conference, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg highlighted their role clearly: If a visitor wants to buy something, send a message. Wants to book a reservation? Send a message. Hesitating over product choice? Send a message. In the near future, users will be sending messages directly from Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Skype to Virtual Agents that will actually help complete transactions instead of just redirecting users to websites or e-shops.  With intelligent features like question recognition and virtual dialog, bots will step into the role of true virtual automated assistants that can automate the sales process and facilitate the closing of new business.

Chatbots can take over the mundane, repetitive questions

If we asked our customers—a mix of Fortune 500 and public administration organizations—whether Virtual Agents are a new “bubble” they would probably be surprised. These days, virtual agents are no longer seen as a gimmick with a robotic voice spouting hard-to-understand text-to-speech.  They are deeply integrated into help portals, customer centers and shopping carts, performing millions of useful operations including answering the most frequent, repetitive customer questions. By the way, these repetitive questions not only irritate live agents in call center but are also the cause of inefficiencies. Having live people answer these questions constantly throughout the day becomes mundane and tiresome, and is not the best use of expensive staff. By using our bots for business, our customers have insulated their live support staff from several million repetitive questions over the past few years, which saves money and lets their staff focus on more complex questions—all of which helps drive overall improved quality customer service.

Forward-thinking CEOs are embracing the new “Conversational Commerce”

Today’s Virtual Assistants are far from perfect. Over the years, we’ve deployed several hundred Virtual Advisors and we know their weaknesses quite well: getting confused with complex questions, difficulty in recognizing emotions, presenting unexpected behavior. However, they are still the most tangible application of artificial intelligence for eCommerce and Customer Service businesses. And experts say their capabilities will continue to evolve rapidly.

The ultimate goal for a Virtual Agents is to be able to seamlessly converse with a customer and process their request to the fullest, most beneficial business outcome in a conversational style that completely mimics human interaction.  This means the bot for business must be capable of recognizing speech, interpreting the visitor’s question, finding the right answer and processing the response by speaking that response through text-to-speech which the customer can hear.  This level of reliable automation opens up real opportunities for forward-thinking CEOs who can focus this “conversational commerce” as a new approach to conducting mass transactions in several industries including banking, insurance and retail shopping.

And the good news is that implementing this technology is becoming easier and more economical every year.  No longer do companies have to build a Chatterbot from scratch with the aid of a highly-experienced (and costly) development team.  Today, companies can integrate existing 3rd party Virtual Assistant technologies into their businesses and instantly gain the benefits of more efficient operations and more intuitive solutions for automating e-business.  And, companies that do so are seeing positive ROI very quickly—especially where the target consumer market involves younger customers.