Two words which spark notions of self-repairing cars, talking laundry machines and toasters which knows exactly how your mum used to burn the bread just a bit on both sides.
Despite strides in the industry, it’s not really the house-and-home section that AI has revolutionised. Instead, the goalposts have begun shifting for contact centres thanks to incredible growth in chatbot availability and capability.
AI, and the solutions it enhances, has become the gold rush of the western world – a digital hunt for the customer experience oil that sits on the frontlines of chatbot capability and evolution. Amazon has released its increasingly impressive Alexa and Echo range of products, Microsoft has created a voice-activated speaker in partnership with Harmon Kardon, and Google has showcased such impressive advancements in AI that everyone has stopped to play with whatever it does next.
The statistics are as exciting as the inventions. According to Juniper Research, chatbots can potentially save the business as much as $US 8 billion by 2020. PwC has found that 31% of business executives believe virtual personal assistants will transform their business, and 27% of consumers were not entirely sure if their last customer service interaction was with a human or a chatbot.
“There are significant benefits to the rapid arrival of chatbots,” says Bruce Von Maltitz, co-foundre of 1Stream. “Computers don’t take holidays, for example, and they don’t need smoke breaks. They are also inexpensive over the long term as they are essentially free once you’ve paid for the initial implementation. Chatbots are also set to solve a lot of the contact industry’s most pressing challenges.”
One of these challenges is the growing customer need to use the call centre or online chat feature to resolve problems rather than to just receive information. The use of chatbots in the call centre would free up the agents to provide more in-depth customer support while the automated features would respond to information-specific calls. Precise answers to clear questions are where chatbots shine.
“AI is exact and it doesn’t waffle or dodge questions or put people on hold because it doesn’t know the answer, it just provides the information and moves on,” adds Von Maltitz. “The computer either knows or it doesn’t and it can escalate the call to a human if it gets stuck. This would massively reduce waiting times and call loads, a great way to improve customer satisfaction.”
That said, the introduction of the chatbot will require a shift in call centre mindset. People wouldn’t be hired based on current criteria such as touch typing or matric, instead they would be selected based on their response to training and ability to engage with people. Databases would have to be adapted to ensure that chatbots have access to the data on demand, and ensure that it was the right data. It would also change how the call centre sees data - chatbots are introducing the first level of machine learning, they get better with every question they answer, so data becomes the differentiator.
“Unfortunately, chatbots are a technology that can fall through the call centre cracks,” he says. “Call centre agents and IT rarely see eye to eye – the former are looking for reporting and technology that make their lives easier, IT is looking for a stable and secure environment. Chatbots introduce a new dynamic that may not be sustainable if the culture doesn’t shift to include them.”
Chatbot integration demands that the company know how they want to use the solution, who will run their integration and implementation, and have executives who own the decision to ensure it becomes a part of the corporate culture. It is equally important to determine whether or not the current generation of chatbots are actually relevant to the business – some organisations may find that they don’t deliver solutions, only more challenges.
“In some companies it is less obvious as to why a chatbot would support their growth or customer engagement,” concludes Von Maltitz. “The best way forward is to find the champion within the company who can identify why it is needed and how it should be integrated and whether or not now is really the right time.”
The landscape is changing at a rapid rate. Microsoft, Amazon, IBM – they are all pushing the boundaries to unlock chatbot potential. The market is hungry for what could happen and the enterprises that invest are finding innovative ways of using chatbots to redefine their brands and customer engagement. The contact centre stands at a cross roads – invest now or wait? As the solutions become more capable, it may soon be that those who don’t invest will be left behind.