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Guest Blogger

Debbie Nolan, Commercial Director at Arvato Financial Solutions UK & Ireland

Chatbots are delivering significant changes to the customer service ecosystem and their uptake among businesses is gathering pace. A recent study by global tech business, Oracle found that 80 per cent of brands expect to use them to interact with customers by 2020, which is unsurprising given the benefits the technology offers for solving customer queries quickly and reducing costs.

Adoption is being driven by consumer demand to interact with brands through digital messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and brand-owned webchat systems. Indeed, there are more than 11,000 chatbot applications running on Facebook alone. Customers now consider making phone calls a burden, while text conversations are seen as far more convenient and provide a quicker solution.

By incorporating the technology into messaging services, the chatbots can provide consumers with automated responses using predetermined answers to common customer questions. For example, we’re seeing financial services businesses use them to help customers improve their credit rating, offering tailored “coaching” after a series of set questions on their personal finances.

Handling more complex customer enquiries

Even within these applications, the large majority of chatbots used across the customer service spectrum are limited to processing simple tasks, governed by a predetermined set of rules that let them mimic interaction. Current technology means the chatbots are unable to handle complex enquiries or lead detailed conversations, which means that a high volume of customer queries are still referred on to a customer service agent working in a contact centre environment.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), or cognitive technology, has the potential to address these limitations and significantly transform how organisations of every size and type interact with their consumers. The technology can undertake complex speech comprehension, recognising user intentions down to the tone of their language and sentiment in their voice. This enables the chatbot to learn more about a consumer during a conversation and provide a completely new level of quality and efficiency in customer dialog.

While this may sound like science fiction, brands are already starting to experiment with AI within their customer service operations. Systems, such as IBM Watson, have shown what can be achieved when a chatbot leverages the technology. By collating a wide range of customer data from recent purchasing decisions, previous contact with the brand and other personal details, the software can analyse the relevant information and make recommendations in real time. This will make it much easier in future to anticipate a customer’s needs and deliver a more personalised experience because the chatbot is factoring previous behaviour and communication patterns into its responses.

From chatbots to virtual assistants

The capacity of the technology to comprehend complex human speech and learn from customer interactions will increase rapidly as AI becomes more sophisticated. The more human-like chatbots appear, the more comfortable consumers will be in using them to communicate with a brand. As the results of our 2015 Omnichannel Monitor study show, 60 per cent of the 1,000 individuals surveyed said they preferred having human contact when to reaching out to business.

Looking further down the line, the technology will offer the potential to remove the requirement for consumers to manually use the internet, or mobile apps, to contact brands. Many websites would no longer be necessary and ‘Googling’ would become superfluous. By acting as autonomous, virtual, personal assistants which can mimic the nuances of natural human behaviour, chatbots will be able to continually learn from consumers and use genuine comprehension and reasoning to meet their needs and preferences in real time.

For example, if a consumer wants to order a new vehicle or open a new bank account, a chatbot will be able to independently make all the necessary arrangements. It will use wealth of pre-existing customer data to provide the solution and contact the customer directly when everything has been completed through a single, hyper-intuitive platform.

Cognitive technology is certainly laying the foundations for the chatbots of the future and as consumer demand for more personalised experiences grows, businesses will look to new technology to differentiate themselves from the competition. Brands should not be intimidated by the step change which chatbots powered by AI will usher in. The technology offers an opportunity to provide their customers unprecedented levels of support, where and when they need it, and will ultimately reduce costs and make customer services more effective and efficient.

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