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Are chatbots customer experience game changers?

28th Sep 2017
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Artificial intelligence (AI) is streamlining all aspects of customer service at a rapid rate. These advancements have resulted in technologies like chatbots becoming an everyday part of the customer experience and companies across all industries are experimenting.

This is leading to predictions of significant change in the workplace; a recent poll conducted by YouGov for the Royal Society of Arts revealed that 13 per cent of employers think more than 30 per cent of jobs will become automated within the next decade, due to advances in robotics and automation.

There is no doubt that AI technology is benefiting both customers and businesses alike; but of course, there will always be moments where human interaction is needed. So, where and how can AI fit into businesses’ customer engagement strategies?

Moving from functional to friendly

Until recently, chatbots very much had a functional role; such as asking the required security questions before customers are put through to a human employee. Now, AI is becoming increasingly sophisticated and able to respond to a number of customer enquiries. For example, Swedbank’s web assistant Nina now has an average of 30,000 conversations per month and can handle more than 350 different customer questions.

However, chatbots are now moving beyond a static role to one where they offer real engagement with customers’ lifestyle needs. Bank of America’s Erica, for example, is a voice and text enabled chatbot that helps customers ‘make smarter banking decisions’. Erica will identify areas where customers can save more money and facilitate the paying of bills within the bank’s app.

Meanwhile, digital insurer Lemonade and its virtual assistant Jim set a world record in early 2017 as it reviewed, processed and paid a claim in three seconds – with no paperwork. If companies can offer technology that brings cost and time-saving benefits to consumers, this could lead to increased engagement, loyalty and advocacy.

Can emotional intelligence be programmed?

One of the criticisms of chatbots is that they fail to match human abilities to pick up on the customer’s emotional state, for example the volume and tone of their voice. Employees can adapt and respond accordingly; working hard to placate the customer if they are unhappy. The big question around the chatbot is whether it will ever be so advanced that it can understand the intricacies of human behaviour.

The answer may well be yes. A team of computer scientists in China recently announced the development of an Emotional Chatting Machine (ECM), which is able to produce factual answers whilst also incorporating emotions such as happiness, sadness or disgust into its conversation. The ECM is fuelled by an “emotion classifying” algorithm that learned to detect emotion from 23,000 posts taken from the Chinese social media site Weibo. The research found that 61 per cent of humans who tested the machine favoured the emotional versions to the neutral chatbot. 

Although this ECM is far from widespread, this is a big step towards evolving chatbots from two-dimensional, limited roles to one capable of emotional intelligence.

The future of chatbots lies in using AI to bring real-life benefits to consumers. For example, reminding a consumer they need to update their insurance policy and providing recommendations based on their lifestyle, or automatically ordering a taxi to the airport as soon as a flight has been booked.

To do this, they should take a multi-channel approach and consider the platforms consumers are engaging with on an everyday basis. If brands do this and invest in technology that can make customers’ lives easier with rich, intelligent interactions, they’ll reap the benefits of deeper engagement and loyalty. 

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