The proliferation of ‘Chatbots’ or Virtual Agents has rapidly created a new frontier of competitive advantage, or one that carries with it severe penalties. If your Bot or VA just isn’t good enough, sure as eggs is eggs, your customers will drop you.
Let’s look at the realities …
Throughout the world, customers across virtually all demographics are rapidly adopting smartphone communication and shifting from voice to text and images. Messaging in its various forms is proliferating at an unprecedented rate. What customers are actually doing is expanding their conversations beyond the realms of pure social or business engagement with friends or colleagues, into the domain of customer service and online shopping. Sadly, very few organizations are appropriately provisioned to meet the technical or practical challenges that Customer Service Bots or Virtual Assistants present.
Successful solutions will embody such leading-edge technologies as Natural Language Processing (NLP), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). What’s more, to effectively drive the iterative development, self-learning, and refinement process, tens of thousands of customer interactions will have to be channeled to and through the Virtual Assistant or Bot. This will mean that significant investments must be made to incentivize customers to adopt the VA or Bot channel. The risks associated with any flaws in the fledgling system are enormous.
Are Chatbots and Virtual Assistants Ready to Support Digital Migration Strategies?
The short answer is that few virtual assistants or chatbots have achieved the Utopian vision of providing exceptionally high levels of customer satisfaction, while simultaneously reducing the overall cost-to-serve. One of the many key reasons for this reality is that in the early stages of development, most chatbots and virtual assistants still require a heavy Cognitive Load from users. In some instances, users are required to use specific terms, words, or trigger phrases. This naturally creates degrees of user frustration and consequently, low adoption rates. The process of engaging with most virtual assistants or Bots is far from being intuitive and in most cases, remote from the concept of a conversation.
However, in the very near future virtual assistants and chatbots will evolve an inherent ability to connect with and relate to humans truly; to understand attitudes and intent; to interpret vocal gestures and nuances and even to build significant emotional connections.
These developments take us beyond Artificial Intelligence into the realms of Artificial Emotion. It can be argued that we’re almost there. By way of example: Launched in 2014 and the focus of massive on-going development and refinement, Amazon’s Echo, coupled with Alexa, (Amazon’s Voice Service platform and App) has already attracted well over five million loyal users, many of whom report that Alexa evokes a sense of genuine human connection; that interacting with Alexa is somewhat like talking to a friend1.
Consider Mobile Moments and Apps
According to Forrester Research, in the US alone, people initiate over 30 billion interactions on their smartphones daily. That’s a staggering average of between 150 and 200 ‘mobile moments’ a day. A study by Dscout3 published in NetworkWorld in July 2016 indicates that the heaviest of smartphone users click, tap, or swipe their phones up to 5,424 times a day. What’s more, ‘heavy’ users will spend almost four hours a day engaging with their smartphone while the ‘average’ US user is currently clocking up an incredible 2.4 hours per day, every day4.
Mobile is the first screen for the clear majority of customers who can use 20 to 30 different apps5 in any given month, but they spend upwards of 88% in just five downloaded apps with much of this given to messaging apps.
While apps have certainly stimulated and supported much digital migration and digital service strategies, apps themselves are somewhat ‘forced’ on customers. Customers have been conditioned to explore, discover, download, and install apps relating to their favored brands, products, and services. With a good basic design, many apps do provide users with reasonably effective touch navigation to allow them to get answers or initiate actions or interactions that get things done. Apps may not be all that intuitive, but by and large, they are reasonably effective.
[About the author] Dylon Mills is the Director of Marketing Content Strategy & Development at Uniphore. As such, Dylon’s main responsibilities are to strategize, create and deliver content for Uniphore’s product portfolio that align with the global Go-To-Market strategy, corporate positioning, and marketing campaigns. Dylon’s prior work experience includes Product Management at one of the top Fortune 500 Technology companies, Symantec Corporation. Outside of work, Dylon enjoys problem-solving and any project that includes building/tinkering with tools. Dylon holds a BS Consumer Economics from the University of Georgia.
1 ‘A smart home is where the Bot is”. Article: McKinsey Quarterly. January 2017 By Jean-Baptiste Coumaru, Hiroto Furuhashi and Hugo Sarrazin 2 Mobile moments: ‘The moments in which a person pulls out a mobile device to get what he or she wants, immediately and in context. Source: Forrester Research 3 Dscout Research. www.dscout.com 4 http://www.networkworld.com/article/3092446/smartphones/we-touch-our-phones-2617-times-a-day-says-study.html 5 Source: Forrester. ‘The State of Chatbots’ by Julie A. Ask, Michael Facemire and Andrew Hogan October 2016