Chatbots: friendly, frustrating and coming like it or not

Published on the 21/02/2018 | Written by Newsdesk


Gartner says ‘virtual customer assistants’ are set to proliferate…

Twenty-five percent of customer service and support operations will integrate virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology across engagement channels by 2020, up from less than two percent in 2017, according to Gartner, Inc. That’s probably going to provide a lot of frustration for a lot of people, if our experience with chatbots are anything to go by.

In a statement, Gartner managing VP Gene Alvarez said more than half of organisations have already invested in VCAs for customer service, as they realise the advantages of automated self-service, together with the ability to escalate to a human agent in complex situations.

“As more customers engage on digital channels, VCAs are being implemented for handling customer requests on websites, mobile apps, consumer messaging apps and social networks,” Alvarez said. “This is underpinned by improvements in natural-language processing, machine learning and intent-matching capabilities.”

Be that as it may, in iStart’s case, the very first question consistently asked of a chat exchange on any website is ‘bot or human?’ If human, we’re happy. If bot, we look for the first bail out to human option.

That’s because experiences with chatbots are almost always far from satisfactory. They might briefly amuse at best, before running into some sort of circular logic hell. And there’s ample evidence available to support the contention that chatbots are annoying and/or a waste of money.

Word on the street is that a certain airline’s chatbot, which, if you can find it to try it out, provides for a bemusing experience for anything other than basic linear requests, is backed up by 16 or 17 highly paid ‘data science’ type people.

There’s big questions over the value and viability of such exercises (certainly in the short term), more suited to in-house experimentation, rather than being ready to deliver real value at the coal face.

We saw this in action when contacting software developer YouDo for comment on a robo-avisor story. A simple question into their online chat service: ‘Is there someone who can speak with me about robo-advisors’ was met with an immediate response (and a phone number). Would a sales-trained bot have managed that?

But back to Gartner. It said organisations report a reduction of up to 70 percent in call, chat and/or email inquiries after implementing a VCA, according to its research. Those organisations also report increased customer satisfaction and a 33 percent saving per voice engagement.

“A great VCA offers more than just information,” said Alvarez. “It should enrich the customer experience, help the customer throughout the interaction and process transactions on behalf of the customer.”

A 2017 Gartner survey found that 84 percent of organisations expected to increase investments in customer experience (CX) technology in the year ahead.

Gartner also said soon, brands will start abandoning mobile apps, B2B companies will accelerate the use of AI to augment at least one of their primary sales processes and that by 2020, more than 40 percent of all data analytics projects will relate to an aspect of customer experience.

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