Does Your Business Need a Chatbot?
If you’ve spent any time online lately there is a good chance that you’ve encountered, or maybe even used, a chatbot. These aren’t the robotic interjections that could be found previously in chatrooms (in the old days of the internet), but a whole new kind of intelligent bot. These bots are changing the game when it comes to online customer service, so it implores marketers to pay attention to this emerging trend.
What is up with all these chatbots?
Chatbots are now being used to complete many online tasks. Tasks like ordering take-out, getting a taxi, providing a basic medical diagnosis, finding and booking your next vacation, getting answers to questions you may have on a variety of topics, or even helping find your soulmate (Match.com now has “Laura” the dating chatbot)! These new age chatbots have advanced AI to engage and delight us with their conversational smarts; is this how Skynet begins?
If you haven’t had the chance to interact with a chatbot yet, here is little background. A chatbot (short for chat robot), is an interactive software platform that resides in apps, computers, website live chat windows, mobile messengers (such as Facebook Messenger, Skype or WhatsApp), SMS and email. The software is designed to be an intelligent virtual assistant, which behaves in a human-like manner and can personalize the conversation to the users needs and effectively resolve a given problem the user has asked of it.
Why are chatbots/bots gaining such momentum?
This trend is being championed by major technology companies who are focusing on making virtual assistants part of everyday life. Microsoft created Cortana, Apple developed Siri, and Amazon released Alexa. These virtual assistants are closely related to chatbots in their form and function, and assist users with everyday tasks like playing music, booking trips, shopping, making appointments or even placing calls. eMarketer cites that 60.5 million Americans will use Siri, Cortana or another virtual assistant at least once a month this year.
Facebook now has over 11,000 different chatbots that people can use in the Facebook messenger platform, and this number is expected to increase in the coming years. It is now inexpensive to create a chatbot as there is no need to invest in years of programming time to develop them. This will make it easier for companies to leverage this technology, and thus will increase adoption. This also means that smaller companies will be able to create them and get in the game as well.
Why would a company decide to leverage a chatbot?
Customers are now expecting businesses to be available to respond to questions, and queries, outside of business hours. In fact, the whole idea of “business hours” has become blurred in recent years. A recent survey states that “Over 50% of people surveyed said that it is important for a business to be available, easy to contact, and able to respond promptly, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” (source: getvoip.com).
For businesses that regularly deal with customers inquires, chatbots are an ideal way to provide customers with the answers they seek in a timely fashion. Consumers are looking for a more instantaneous response that is more personalized versus the generic “thank you for contacting us, we’ll be in touch” response of old. In a recent survey, it was identified that customers feel SMS is more appealing than phone support according to one third of the people surveyed. It was also found that they felt that website online chat is even more preferred as a contact method over SMS. In fact, “80% surveyed said they would utilize online chat over SMS.” And 49% of the people surveyed said they would rather use a messaging application to communicate with a business than a phone call or email. (source: getvoip.com). Chatbots can be programmed to respond to the typical and frequent questions or issues on a businesses product or service, effectively providing the service and information a consumer desires, in a timely manner.
Chatbots have the artificial intelligence to be able to extract and analyze a user’s needs and/or intent quickly, which allows them to ultimately return the information or perform the required actions requested. This happens in real time, anytime of day or night, faster and with more accuracy, and at a significantly lower cost than the current customer service model most businesses are using. Pretty compelling usage case here when consumer brand loyalty is more fickle than ever. Creating a chatbot is an easy way to streamline a business’ customer service, freeing up the human customer service team to service more complex or atypical situations.
While more than half companies who are using chatbots currently as part of their customer service team say there is cost savings and that this method of social customer care has seen a positive return on investment, could it be that chatbots are just a fad?
Not likely! Juniper Research is estimating that chatbots will be responsible for cost savings of over $8 billion annually by 2022 in the Retail, eCommerce, Banking and Healthcare fields, which is up from the estimated $20 million they will see in 2017. Gartner feels that 85% of all customer service interactions will be completed by chatbots by the year 2020, and VoiceLabs is expecting that 33 million new voice-activated devices will be installed in the U.S. by the end of 2017 and that currently 56% of U.S. households own and use a smart speaker already. As 27% of consumers weren’t sure if their last customer service interaction was with a human or a chatbot, it appears that consumers aren’t to picky so long as they get the assistance they are needing.
As life gets busier and bot technology gathers more data to become more helpful/predictive, we see this being a growing trend as it enhances the experience for the consumer while allowing the business to provide 24 hour service. These chatbots, whether on a personal device, at homes or online, allow people to get information and answers quickly, , and assists them to complete menial tasks faster, freeing up their time to focus on other activities they value more. As the technology continues to advance and people become more comfortable with AI, who knows, maybe there could come a time that consumers even prefer bots to humans? What do you think?