Chatbots are becoming the in-thing today as a CX enhancer. This technology is stepping in in every possible garb – be it social media or webpages. While chatbots are becoming a necessity today, unfortunately not every brand realises that unless you have a smart chatbot integrated, it can pretty much meet its end in the CX world.

Chatbots sure have brought in a sense of quick customer interaction and enabled access 24/7. However, if I were to compare this whole scenario with the last season of Game Of Thrones, I would liken this chatbot-customer support engagement as the fight for the seven kingdoms. If a brand incorporates a chatbot just because it’s the current tech trend, or just to save manpower costs then it is similar to walking down the same path as that of Daenerys Targaryen’s supporters in Westeros, who are unaware of the fatal experience that this alliance will usher into King’s Landing. Like Daenerys, the chatbot may initially bring in a winning streak for a brief period, but then if it isn’t hybridised the right way and directed with intelligence, it will meet its end and drag down with it the brand’s efforts to provide a better CX – may be like what happened to Jon Snow after Daenerys died. In the end, it’s a whole new set of players that take over the realm, while the lucky ones like the Starks keep to their territory.

So now the question is – are chatbots solving the problem of bad customer experience? My answer is maybe not.

Chatbots came into the picture to intelligently solve customer issues and help brands communicate in quick time. A brand may most often introduce chatbots to solve four issues:

  1. Lack of manpower availability during odd/ off-work hours.
  2. To reduce manpower costs by hiring fewer staff and letting the chatbot do the work.
  3. To handle simple queries in areas where there is heavy inbound traffic and it is humanely impossible for customer support staff to manage the large volume of inquiries.
  4. To provide instant response to a customer rather than make them wait.

While I don’t quite agree that a chatbot is a good alternative for the first two scenarios mentioned above, let’s take a look at two situations where chatbots manage the off-work hours or have been integrated into the CX landscape to reduce staffing costs. There are dime a dozen situations that each one of us knows of where either the chatbot doesn’t have an answer and suggests that we speak to a human customer representative; or worse, when we as the customer ourselves know that the chatbot won’t have a solution to our query; and yet we need to answer all its questions before it passes on the line of conversation to its human counterpart! Frustration is the ruling emotion, and nothing can create a greater negative impact on a brand’s image than this one emotion alone.

Hybridising the experience is the way forward

I know of several companies in the past that have invested in chatbots in its early stages without empowering them with requisite machine learning techniques, which has only been detrimental to their business. Why, even Facebook had to abandon its chatbot experiment when its two AI programs created a language of their own and started communicating with each other, while their creators had no idea what the negotiation was all about! (source)

However, over the last few years intense research in AI for chatbots has paved the way for a hybridised working relationship between a human customer support representative and a bot to offer a wholesome customer experience. This is especially important in today’s scenario as a chatbot can probably at best understand 40% of customer queries. Beyond that it needs human support.

Organisations today are making concerted efforts to better the predictive analysis of their AI systems so that their chatbot can understand customer emotions via the words they type, the emoticons they use and their speed of typing, and respond accordingly. AI is also analysing data of each interaction with a particular customer to improve the customer’s experience by personalising its response during future interactions. These efforts are helping humans and chatbots work alongside each other to deliver a more personalised customer experience.

Take for instance a mutual fund investment firm. When a customer calls in to understand the reason for fluctuations in his fund, the chatbot can answer the initial query and thereon assist a human customer representative by prompting the reasons to keep the conversation more personal. Without this hybridised communication channel, a brand’s CX offering via chatbots can turn into something bizarre.

As research in AI combines with Natural Language Processing technologies, the empathy and judgment that comes from human customer service professionals needs to be integrated with the speed and accuracy of a chatbot. Such blended learning over a period of time will help chatbots offer a near-human experience.

Chatbots are becoming the norm today, pretty much a necessity like a refrigerator. But it’s important to understand that a business needs to scale its chatbot technology based on its organisational processes and services management. I don’t see chatbots becoming a whole and sole entity by itself at least in the next few years. But human demands sure are changing by the season, and AI needs to be retaught new ways to recognise these demands in a jiffy, adapt and adopt new ways. If I have to reiterate, I would ask – would you still prefer an old age manual defrost refrigerator because it’s all about having a refrigerator in your kitchen? Or would you prefer an auto-defrost one that saves you the hassle of cleaning up every few days and also manages your power well?