It’s an exciting time to be involved the customer service and communications space. There are more ways to interact with a brand than ever before (email, Twitter, even Snapchat), but one of the most new and exciting advancements is chatbots.
In a recent article, The Guardian described chatbots as:
“Chat bots are computer programs that mimic conversation with people using artificial intelligence. They can transform the way you interact with the internet from a series of self-initiated tasks to a quasi-conversation.”
In the customer service space, chatbots are using the growing power of artificial intelligence to allow customers to interact with a brand as they would with a customer service representative. However, there are some marked benefits to managing conversations with chatbots. Read on to find out why.
Chatbots are where the market is trending.
Last year, Uber’s director of experience Chris Messina wrote a post hailing the rise of something he called conversational commerce. He described it as:
“Utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context.”
His vision of conversational commerce has come to fruition this year with the exciting and not unrelated rise of bots. Messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and Kik recently doubled down on chatbots, rolling out their own bot stores where developers can go in and code their own conversational chatbots.
While initial reaction to the chatbots has been somewhat lukewarm (their ability to handle natural language leaves something to be desired), we have to remember we’re just at the beginning of a very exciting evolution of B2C communications. In fact, Gartner made a prediction a few years back that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions would be managed without a human. The rise of chatbots dovetails nicely into this prediction.
Customers are open to the idea of chatbots.
While there’s still something to be said for a human touch in customer service, research has shown that 40% of customers prefer self-service. In addition, Zendesk found that over 50% of customers think it’s important that they can solve their problems themselves without having to rely on customer service agents.
Customers are also interested in interacting with your business over messaging (and already are). A study conducted by Harris Poll and commissioned by OneReach found that 64% of customers would rather text than call your business, and insights released during the recent F8 Conference showed that more than one billion messages are sent to businesses each month.
Combine the two approaches (self-service and texting/messaging) and you arrive at chatbots. Chatbots leverage a channel that customers are already using (texting/messaging) and blend it with their desire for a self-service experience.
Chatbots are cheaper and faster than live agents.
We’ve talked before about how much cheaper an automated interaction is compared to a live agent interaction (25 cents vs. $6-20). But in addition to being cheaper than live agents, chatbots are also an efficient way to deliver customer service—customers can type in their question and get a response back almost immediately based on pre-programmed logic.
For instance, I recently tried out Spring, one of the first Facebook Messenger bots to go public. It asked me if I wanted women’s or men’s items, then asked what kind of clothing I was looking for, all in rapid succession. Soon I was scrolling through results quickly and easily.
Just like with Spring, most people will and are using chatbots for simple requests (getting a ride via Uber, ordering flowers, etc.), but sometimes customers may have more complex queries than the bot can understand. Going back to the Spring example, I found a cardigan I liked (it’s still kind of chilly in Denver, okay?) but wanted to know if they had it in a different color. When I asked the chatbot if they had it in white, the bot kindly told me they’d get back to me soon with an answer.
By pivoting to a conversation with a live agent from within the bot conversation, you can ensure that every customer has a great experience.
Chatbots can incorporate visual media.
Humans are very visual creatures—in fact, we process images 60,000 times faster than we do text. Images are a quick and easy way to communicate information, so that’s why it’s great that chatbots can incorporate rich media like picture and GIFs into conversation. While chatbots primarily communicate through text, images can help chatbots seem more human or showcase a product that’s easier to display than describe.
When I was talking with the Spring bot, once I had determined what types of products I was looking for, it pulled up a few options that I could click on and expand to get more information. There was also the option to add in images and GIFs on my end, and while the chatbot itself didn’t add in an image, I think it could have benefitted the interaction quite a bit and made it seem a little more human.
It’s almost indistinguishable from a human (when written correctly).
Your worst fear about chatbots might be that they deliver a clunky, robotic user experience (or, on a more existential level, that they’re coming for all of us and our jobs). However, bots can actually deliver a really seamless, natural human experience when written correctly.
It really depends on what your brand’s voice is, though. If you’re a more informal brand, using slang and casual language (“like,” “love,” etc.) and referring to your brand as “we” or “I” will work well. If you’re a more formal brand, referring to yourself in third person and dropping the slang is probably a better bet.
Spring was more informal, so when the chatbot greeted me with “Hey there!” and referred to itself as “We,” it sounded pretty similar to a human. I almost couldn’t tell the difference between the bot’s responses (left) and the human’s responses (right) when they stepped in.
Brands are increasingly receptive to using chatbots in their B2C communications. While we’ll have to wait a little bit to see how the chatbot wave plays out over the next few months, early responses and clear benefits just might indicate the rise of chatbots in customer service.
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Image of person typing courtesy of Pexels. CC0 License.