Chatbots & VAs: the future of customer experience

8th Dec 2017

Today’s consumers are more sophisticated and have higher expectations for customer experience than in the past. This means brands must innovate and look for new ways to elevate that experience, especially across digital channels, to transform how they provide support. From artificial intelligence-based chatbots to strategic use of messaging applications, new technologies are transforming the customer experience (CX).

AI-powered chatbots and digital assistants are growing rapidly as a solution for businesses around the world that are looking to improve customer experience while reducing costs. Intelligent chatbots can not only serve customers better by effortlessly transferring context across channels, but also by understanding, anticipating and acting on consumer intent. This enables them to offer better recommendations and increase time to a successful resolution, which improves customer experience leads to greater brand loyalty.

If you’ve never tried a chatbot, you might be surprised how similar the experience is to interacting with a human. In fact, many consumers can’t tell when they’re interacting with a bot or a human. In addition to helping companies offer timely resolution to problems, intelligent chatbots can augment the brainpower of human agents by predicting consumer intent and transferring context. That way, when a chat is escalated, the human can instantly pick up where the bot left off.

Automated Introduction

Chatbots are far from a new technology, but they have are experiencing newfound popularity as the result of AI. Traditionally, businesses have collected tremendous amounts of data, but that data has existed in silos. Now because of AI, that data can be extracted from the silos, processed and distilled into actionable intent. Those intent models can then be applied to various common customer journeys from purchasing an airline ticket, to renting a car to returning an item purchased at a store. As a result, chatbots are forecasted to result in more than $8 billion in savings annually by 2022.

Despite the profound benefits and compelling use cases, there is still a lot of confusion in the market about what bots are and what they can do. In order to reduce some of the confusion, it is important for brands to begin by telling a customer that they are interacting with bots to introduce the customer to the abilities of a chatbot and slowly build trust.  For example, some bots will be able to do simple things like show you your bill, while others may be able to help you shop based on what you’re looking for. This type of transparency helps minimize any negative sentiments that may arise when consumers believe they are interacting with a human only to find out later that they are interacting with a bot.

All Bots are Not Equal

In order to be effective in the enterprise, bots need to have some level of AI behind them. These types of bots are known as virtual agents or assistants, and they are designed to replicate the effectiveness of a company’s best human agents. They can be deployed on a range of interfaces -- web, mobile, social, messaging app, voice response and SMS to reduce customer frustration and wait times.

Additionally, while many bots may claim AI capabilities, each one varies greatly in intelligence, and the type and amount of data that they process can greatly impact how a business would incorporate them into their day-to-day functions. When enterprises design their bots to operate within a certain context (e.g. mortgages, utilities, mobile operators, etc.), they are better positioned to support the conversation because they are specifically designed for journeys within that industry. For example, bots developed for travel applications can be uniquely designed for that application, and built on years of data about how consumers have interacted with other travel companies in the past.

These intelligent chatbots possess the capabilities to help businesses get the most out of their bot deployment – integrating with enterprise systems, leveraging big data and using AI as a customer-facing solution to resolve issues, complete transactions and accomplish basic to complicated tasks. A virtual agent is therefore able to engage customers seamlessly and holistically, based on the consumer’s intent, and deliver and achieve new purchase paths.

Creating Near-human Experiences with Bots

There’s a common misconception that bots and humans work independently to help consumers meet their needs, but in fact the opposite is true. AI technology is still critically dependent on humans to be successful, and at the same time, it has proven to augment the ability of human agents to better serve customers.  Using AI, chatbots can predict and write many responses for the human agents, so that the human only has to slightly tweak or customize the responses. The bot does 90% of the writing for them.

Today’s most advanced chatbots can even be integrated with business systems to perform a variety of tasks on behalf of the customer.

Specifically, advanced chatbots can enhance the customer experience in several ways:

Intent Recognition and Prediction- Intent recognition leveraging predictive technology is able to identify the intent of the customer experience and recommend the best next step on the journey. Predictive technology can even be used to predict the customer’s next question and provide agents with the most appropriate resolution path in advance of the customer asking.

Natural Language Processing- Customers can type in natural language and are given the appropriate, accurate response.

Personalization- Customers who are logged-in to a website can be served a more relevant and personalized journey based on their online behavior, account information, shopping cart status and more. 

Continuous Experiences- Live agents entering the journey are informed of the customer’s prior interactions so that customers never repeat themselves, thus providing a continuous experience. As agents discover new content that the AI system should handle, they can input it, so that the system is constantly learning.  Tagging is just one example of how this is done. This way, the system is continuously tweaked to perform better and handle a growing breadth of issues over time.

Rich Media- Chatbots can share all kinds of rich media including links, photos, videos, forms and more with customers right in the messaging window.

Targeted Marketing Offers- Predictive technology can also be used to deliver targeted marketing offers to customers at the right time, at moments when they are most likely to want to make a purchase, driving incremental revenues.

Deliver the Kind of Intelligent, Automated Conversations Customers Want

Today, brands have to ensure that they enable customers to effortlessly engage with the company across channels, devices and time without having to start over. This can be achieved through deployment of the right technologies that map customer journeys, predict intent and offer a personalized experience.

Working alongside human agents, AI-powered customer experience is here to stay and will play an even stronger role in customer service going forward.

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