By James Bayhack
From single-purpose programmes that respond to common consumer queries to advanced digital assistants that evolve as they process information, chatbots – or conversational agents – are becoming increasingly popular and utilised by businesses to deliver proactive and personalised services to their customers.
Today’s chatbots are smarter and more useful than ever before, thanks to massive advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing. Chatbots are transforming the way we communicate, do business and interact with each other in a digital society. The same society that is currently being shaken by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is forcing global businesses in virtually every industry to rethink their customer service strategy.
With the absence of face-to-face interactions and tangible support, more companies are turning to smart, digital solutions to connect with their customer base in a time of crisis and uncertainty.
Let’s look at why you should consider chatbots for your business, which type to use, and how to tap into a sophisticated human engagement to meet your customers’ most pressing needs during the pandemic, and beyond.
Considering there is a wide variety of chatbots out there that differ in their interpretative skills, implementation timelines and costs, researching the different types to suit your unique business needs and customer demand is important. There is no one-size-fits-all chatbot solution for every company.
For example, if you only need a chatbot to handle the first few repetitive questions of your customers, then you don’t require a full-blown and expensive AI implementation – a rule-based bot will do. As the name implies, these chatbots map out conversations through a series of defined rules. Simple, affordable and quick to train, rule-based bots can be set up in a matter of days and are easy to use and understand. Employees can take ownership of the bot, intervene with conversations, and easily adjust the flow thanks to a simple, intuitive drag-and-drop system.
However, if your needs are more complex, an advanced AI bot will be a fantastic addition to your customer support team. These chatbots learn from interactions and use this information to generate their own answers using natural-language responses. Over time, your customers won’t be able to distinguish whether they’re talking to a human or robot, but like with other cutting-edge technologies, these bots will take time and effort to implement. They also come with more extensive ‘user manuals’.
Regardless of which chatbot you choose, operational efficiency and enhanced customer experience are just two major benefits that your company can reap from utilising the technology. By reducing the need for constant interaction at the expense of human resources, chatbots enable businesses to serve hundreds of customers at the same time. And by engaging with people in a personal and responsive way, chatbots take customer service to the next level.
But, perhaps the most pertinent value that chatbots bring to businesses and customers right now is the delivery of service and convenience through messaging apps. This allows people to connect with companies effortlessly over their personal devices and within their preferred chat channels – a key offering in a social-distancing landscape.
Several government agencies, healthcare organisations and financial and retail companies have already leveraged this advantage, adopting chatbots to help spread awareness about the virus and answer customer queries.
The far-reaching value that chatbots offer is clear, but how can you start integrating them into your customer service systems?
Customer data is a crucial starting point – before you start using a chatbot, you need to understand who your customers are and what they’re looking for. Insights from current chats, including what is being said and how you respond, will help determine what kind of chatbot solution is right for your business. Assessing your customers’ needs, business goals and chatbot requirements, before implementation is important to ensure you’ll be ticking all the right boxes.
That’s why partnering with a communications technology expert that offers guided chatbot support is advised – one that helps you unlock new ways to reach your customers more efficiently.
Whether you choose a sophisticated data-driven chatbot or a smooth-running rule-based version, there’s no denying that chatbots are here to stay. Like other AI tools, they will continue to enhance our capabilities and improve life in our digital world – long after this pandemic dies down.
James Bayhack is Sub-Saharan Africa Director at CM.com