Artificial Intelligence (AI) is dramatically changing business, and chatbots, fueled by AI, are becoming a viable customer service channel. The best ones deliver a customer experience (CX) in which customers cannot tell if they are communicating with a human or a computer. AI has come a long way in recognizing the content - and context - of customers' requests and questions.
Typically, customer service chatbots answer questions based on key words. The most basic systems are actually document retrieval systems. Sometimes this is frustrating. Think of the times you may have asked Siri or Alexa a question and received the wrong answer. The computer recognizes key words but may not recognize the context in which they are being used. In other words, the computer doesn't recognize the way people naturally speak. This causes the customer great frustration. However, these systems (including Siri and Alexa) have come a long way and continue to improve.
Adam Devine is the CMO of WorkFusion, architects of AI-powered products that automate customer service functions as well as other business processes. According to Devine, "Adding natural language processes and machine learning changes everything, giving virtual customer assistants (VCAs) the ability to determine not just what rules-based action to take based on a word, but to understand the meaning of words in different combinations, ask questions to create context and intent, and actually do something for the customer."
For at least the foreseeable future, chatbots won't be replacing humans in contact center jobs. At this point, chatbots will only replace some of the tasks that people are now handling - especially lower-level requests, questions and complaints. The best chatbot systems can recognize customer frustration and switch the interaction to a human in the company's support center. That said, chatbots are on their way to mainstream acceptance. Here are four ways AI and chatbots are creating a major impact in the customer service and CX world:
The chatbot never sleeps: Customer service is all about convenience, which includes 24/7 customer support. A cost-efficient, yet powerful way to provide basic support is through the never-sleeping chatbot. Devine shared an excellent example of this. In the banking industry, Workfusion's chatbots are trained by using historical conversations and can perform some of the same tasks as a live support center rep such as correcting an invoice, answering basic questions about account balances and more. Customers receive the same level of service they would get from the support rep. The chatbot can recognize human emotions such as anger, confusion, fear and joy. And, as mentioned above, if the chatbot detects that the customer is angry, upset or frustrated, it will seamlessly transfer the interaction to a human to take over and finish assisting the customer.
The chatbot won't make you wait: The concept of on-hold music is a friction point in customer service. With chatbots, you no longer have to wait for the next agent. Devine is proud that WorkFusion has seen its "Intelligent Conversational Agents" (as in chatbots) provide a five-fold increase in service center capacity.
Personalizing the customer experience: Chatbots excel at collecting customer data from support interactions. After all, it's the computer that's doing the work. The advantage is that live support agents can use this information to personalize their interactions with customers. Devine says chatbots serve as virtual assistants that can feed customer data to the agent in real time, so the agent can give the customer good information and solutions based on current needs as well as past interactions with the company.
Chatbots make friends and build relationships: Most companies wish their agents had more time to make outbound, proactive contact with their customers. Chatbots are there to help, and in some ways, they are revolutionizing the way brands stay in touch with their customers. Whether it's a simple email or text on a customer's birthday, or a quick check-in to ask if they are enjoying the brand's product or service, chatbots are helping to foster brand loyalty. Devine says, "This may sound counterintuitive, but the most sophisticated chatbots can provide a more human experience than an actual human. They don't have bad days and they don't get frustrated by typical customers."
Studies and reports show that customers want quick, frictionless solutions to their problems and answers to their questions. No doubt there are acceptance issues for AI and chatbots. Some customers have always used traditional phone support and have a hard time accepting anything else. But, there is a growing contingent of customers who are increasingly open to new technology, especially if it can enhance their CX. As the technology improves and acceptance grows, chatbots, powered by AI, will have a strong role in customer service and support.