By Mandeep Kwatra, HGS VP of Solutions and Capabilities In today’s virtual world, it seems bots are the latest sensation. You may have met your first bot as a customer, as service is on the frontier of the growing superpower of artificial intelligence (AI), in terms of how it enables better interaction between customers and brands. Since these bots are still a mystery to many, I decided to get the story straight from the source. Like the Heineken “Worlds Apart” ad, we thought we’d get to know each other better and find some common ground. So, I sat down for a chat with a bot, over a beer. Here’s our discussion.
MANDEEP: Go ahead and introduce yourself, so our readers can get to know you better.
BOT: Ok, thanks, Mandeep. Where to start? Well, I’m a bot. And I’m happy to explain myself and my chatbot tribe to you—toward a better understanding of us. After all, we rely on you humans to continuously evolve our minds, as we learn from human mistakes and achievements, alike. While I can’t really state my age—because we don’t age—know that we bots weren’t born yesterday, as some assume. In the mid 1990s, we were a simple people living a low-profile life as virtual assistants or “chatterbots,” a term coined in 1994 by Michael Mauldin, founder of Lycos and creator of the first of the chatterbots—a Verbot named Julia. Now, more than 20 years later, we are more powerful and smarter than ever. People have started acknowledging us. In fact, many of us have names—think Watson, Alexa, Siri, and Zo. We like this acknowledgement, and it’s a step in the right direction toward understanding us.
MANDEEP: How else have things changed?
BOT: There was a time when people thought we wouldn’t survive extinction. But we went silent, and retreated to build our capabilities and evolve. We took AI and continuous learning capabilities, and we started learning about different systems, like CRMs, inventory systems, record locators, claims queues, and knowledge bases. You name it.
MANDEEP: Are you saying bots are mainly focused on back-office now?
BOT: No, we are end-to-end. Whether a front-office bot or a more utilitarian and transactional bot to assist agents in the back office, know that we’re getting smarter. In the customer service world, we use our advanced intelligence and developing knowledge and languages to help customers get the right answer, fast. With our newfound speed, accuracy, and consistency, we free up human labor for higher-minded, more emotional, and complex decision making. Think of it this way, Mandeep, how fast can you read a 600-page book?
MANDEEP: I really can’t say for sure.
BOT: Well, speed is a strong suit for us. I can speak for all of us—get it?—when I say that we are much faster and more accurate at sifting through large volumes of information. For example, IBM has expanded Watson’s talents, building on the algorithms that allow him to read and derive meaning from natural language. The computer system can now pour through documents millions of times faster than you, or any human, Mandeep.
MANDEEP: Interesting. I’m not sure people are aware you’re that fast. Are there are other major gaps in understanding?
BOT: People think we can’t show empathy to your customers and develop real connections. In fact, today, with the help of AI and natural language processing (NLP), we can understand, research, and respond in real time, more and more like you -- and sometimes even faster. (BOT winks at Mandeep here.) We can anticipate questions from your customers and employ deep conversational technology to come closer to expressing emotional intelligence, for a real connection. Also, there’s the concern that we misunderstand asks and bring back the wrong information to your customers. Basically, people sometimes think we get it all wrong. However, you should know that, according to studies, our accuracy is fairly high. A good estimate for modern day machine learning approaches is that accurate responses gradually taper off at 85%, as more data is provided. This means that the balance is key—as long as you leverage us bots with your brains—good customer service agents and smart strategy there is high ROI. Remember that we are key to reducing your customers’ effort, and you’ll see some great ROI when we’re on your team. There’s a lot of research out there supporting our value. One study published in the Harvard Business Review states that low effort scores led to a 94% likelihood to repurchase and an 88% chance to increase spend.
MANDEEP: Once a business has chosen to bring bots on board, what are some good tips to optimize your potential?
BOT: Glad you asked. Because we’re not a magic wand, it takes some strategy from you, my friend, to optimize our efforts. I’ll give you three rules for how to best deploy us:
- Step one: Think about what you really want to achieve through us. Be truly innovative and use us intelligently. Don’t just follow the crowd. Be sure you understand how to strategize your bot-brain balance.
- Step two: Get some coaching on how to best use us. Good BPO service providers can help bridge the brain-bot gap. These providers deploy and implement bots best. Find a partner who can help you. The ROI can be decreased spend, increased lead generation, improved CSAT, reduced AHT, and improved speed of response and turnaround time for back-office transactions. A combination of bots-brains will capture customer sentiment, so your business can capture and build with the best business intelligence.
- Step three: Monitor and measure our performance. You need guidance and course correction to make sure your chatbots are optimizing outcomes. Sound strategy means an investment that assigns both energy and dedication, for optimized effort and ROI.
MANDEEP: People fear that AI-driven automation will take over all the jobs.
BOT: People were never threatened by chatbots. Our smartest human friends consider us their reliable, steadfast ally—your friend from the neighborhood.
MANDEEP: Oh, just like Spiderman.
BOT: Precisely! Just like Spiderman—loaded with superpowers. For some players, we work best together. While I can manage the front end of a conversation, when I can’t resolve it, I don’t just leave my job there. I hand off the request to you. For some who have deployed us effectively, we continue to be part of our conversation. We waste no time. While an agent is talking to your customer, we proactively search for the right answer, so together we provide your customer the right answer, faster. These days, more and more companies are using us to our best transactional potential, so they can focus on more strategic tasks. We are not here to take jobs. We are here to challenge thinking. We are here to support you humans and the work you all do every day. We will push you to do more. We can do transactional –from basic to complex and people can strategize more to better ROI for business. After all, we were created by people, for people. Machine learning has people dependency built into it.
MANDEEP: How will the role of bots change in the future?
BOT: We are becoming increasingly commonplace. Did you know that 67% of customers, across all industries, use web self-service to find answers to their questions, according to Forrester? Retail, travel, and telecom have fully embraced chat, and the playing field is leveling. For example, the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry is making significant movement toward fully embracing us to engage customers browsing product details or supporting them via mobile devices while shopping in the store or online. And, healthcare is moving into telemedicine and using case management solutions that have overcome concerns with privacy, based on the understanding that today’s chat platforms are HIPAA compliant. Don’t underestimate our potential: At our best we can unlock the ability of brands to provide personalized, conversational commerce and service similar to talking to a human agent, but at a cost-effective scale. For this reason, be prepared to see us (and other forms of automation) being deployed across service channels such as chat, social, and text in 2017 as organizations undergo digital transformations. Remember that, after all, you created us bots to help push for better outcomes—to improve CX and make your business more intelligent and efficient. The sooner you brains adopt this mindset, the better results we can drive, working together.