Imagine – a chatbot you actually want to chat with? Here’s how it’s possible

Hristo Borisov is director of product management at Progress.

As consumers, do we look to the experience or do we look to the result when dealing with brands?

An enjoyable interaction with a brand counts for nothing if we don’t end up with what we want, no matter how charming the sales person was. However, the same can be said if we end up with the thing we want but only after a charmless, cold and unenjoyable experience to get to that point.

Being able to balance the two has always been the ultimate goal of most brands, especially within key consumer led industries such as retail. But as consumer demand increases, alongside the number of potential customers, businesses have looked to technology to help improve their overall customer experience (CX). In recent years, entire businesses have built themselves around helping identify and solve the CX problem, with analyst houses Gartner, Ovum and Forrester all releasing regular CX reports that look to help everyone at the executive table, from CEO to CMO, implement the best new technologies in the space. One of the most exciting and talked about trend in recent years is the use of chatbots.

Do I have to talk to another chatbot?

The use of chatbots is not a new thing. The benefits of using conventional chatbots are well known – they can free up human resources which saves both time and money, they can be deployed easily and scaled up accordingly during times of demand, and they can answer simple requests which are below the skill level of human operators. This level of chatbot technology has existed for a long time, and although useful in practice, the reality is many consumers would have less than positive things to say about the often clunky and robotic nature of chatbots. Having to ask the same question in a number of different ways, receiving wrong answers or in the wrong context, an inability to take action beyond a simple response – all of these are common complaints found.  Often to date, instead of improving the overall CX, chatbots have just frustrated people and led to demands for more human interaction.

So what’s different now?

We are starting to see a significant change in the technology underpinning chatbots that will take them to a whole new level of performance and interaction. Over the next 5-10 years, a combination of greater availability of data and increased cognitive machine learning capabilities will give chatbots much more flexibility and power. They will become more and more autonomous, with the ability to handle complex tasks and deliver a personalised experience to both employees and customers. Through being able to introduce conversational UI into the applications, businesses will be able to successfully introduce natural conversational flow, alongside ‘training’ the chatbot like a person with a set of goals, examples and data from existing backend systems.

The next generation of chatbots will enable improved or even entirely new customer journeys and overall experiences across all channels.

What does all this actually mean for the customer experience?

It’s one thing to talk about the potential for this new technology to make a difference, but what are the actual real-life benefits that customers will see?

Here’s a few examples:

  • Helping improve the online shopping experience: It would be great if every time we logged onto a website we had the same salesperson who had been with us from our very first purchase, but this is unlikely from a human perspective. A smart chatbot however will instantly remember our likes and dislikes, previous purchase history and any queries we have asked before. This will not be a static list of bullet points, but will have been processed and will allow for the chatbot to make increasingly sophisticated recommendations.
  • Putting a doctor in our pocket: Although we can often be impatient when it comes to wanting feedback on a retail complaint, this often pales in significance to more important issues such as our health. As chatbots become more intelligent, we will see further applications in the healthcare space. From helping us keep track of appointments to providing tailored advice to help prevent conditions developing, we will be able to call on 24/7 medical advice in our pocket.
  • Helping us count the pennies: Few people enjoy going to the bank, but chatbots can not only help reduce this activity, they can also help improve how we save our money in the first place.  Chatbots can help make payments, improve existing spending habits, check balances and provide personalised advice through the month to help keep us out of the bank and out of the black.

Talking the talk and walking the walk

Ask any futurist or anyone involved in the application development space and they will tell you that the future of interactions with our mobile devices is increasingly through voice and increased engagement with digital assistants. Chatbots are going to be the key gatekeepers. As cognitive learning grants them abilities beyond the human touch, they are going to be fundamental when it comes to the customer experience no matter what industry you are in.

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