Look Who’s Talking!
Chatbots – A New Dimension in Customer Services
Chatbots are hip and popular: The more intelligent software robots become, the more they can take off our shoulders. Are they the future of customer services?
They have names that seem to come from science fiction novels: Poncho, BuzzBot and Brain. Since their ancestor Eliza first saw the light of the world in 1964, they are no longer an unknown phenomenon. In future we will be able to communicate with them round-the-clock: chatbots – text-based computer programs capable of holding human dialog, both written and by voice recognition. They will assist us in our everyday lives and at work and complete independent tasks for which we previously needed to phone or find information using the Internet or apps. They facilitate personalized solutions and help us save time because they find a solution for everyday challenges in real time.
Fabian Westerheide is certain of that. The investor from Berlin has specialized in companies dealing with artificial intelligence (AI): “The chatbot will be our everyday agent and will communicate with other machines, such as airline or hotel databases. It will be able to carry out tasks for us. For example, you’ll be able to ask it, ‘Please find me a hotel in Hamburg for under 90 euros’.” According to Westerheide, the chatbot of the future will be a huge asset for humans, covering functions of lawyers, secretaries, investment advisors and travel agents. It will order flowers for us on Mother’s Day, buy pizza, set up a new bank account, organize a doctor’s appointment or even get us a car at the airport.
But where is this current enthusiasm for software agents coming from? Why could they possibly be the mode of communication of choice in future? There is a reason for it: Messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and WeChat have become central platforms for everyday digital communication. We increasingly perceive phone calls as intrusive, while text conversations, pictures and gifs are the norm. Users now find it troublesome and tiring having to download apps for one use only and having to re-register each time. That is why chatbots will be incorporated into messaging services. They will send users personalized messages. The user can read them and request further information or ask the robot something. All they have to do is send a message. The more the user writes, the more the robot learns and the more tailored the messages and product information that are sent to the user become. One of the chatbots’ strengths is to constantly filter data flows in order to generate “news alerts.” This is how the chatbots at CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and even those at the American department store Nordstrom work. At the moment, 11,000 chatbot applications are running on Facebook alone. For brands, content providers and advertisers, chatbots are an opportunity to communicate directly with users and customers. For messenger providers, the commercial use of their platforms of course means the monetization of their services if they are financially involved in every successful transaction.
However, most of today’s chatbots work without any AI. Nevertheless, AI is critical for them because software robots first learn through AI. This enables them to better understand texts and therefore be able to react to the complex requirements of their users. Machine learning allows the software to lead detailed conversations and recognize users’ intentions. These intelligent cognitive technologies will be applied systematically to customer dialog in future. This is because speech comprehension and independent learning are the key to the next generation of CRM solutions, enabling a completely new level of quality and efficiency in customer dialog. By integrating the IBM-Watson technologies into the current CRM solutions, a great deal of customer data from different contact channels can be brought together, be interpreted and recommendations can be derived in real time (deep learning). This will make it much easier in future to anticipate a customer’s needs and purchasing intentions when they contact a chatbot or service center with their concerns because the technology is working on the basis of their previous behavior, purchasing and communications patterns.
The advantages of this customer dialog are clear: On the one hand, chatbots pick up data in a natural way and send it from machine to machine in real time. This generates needs-based product and information offers that are tailored to each individual customer. On the other hand, everything that is currently installed as an app on a smartphone could be replaced with chatbots in three to four years at most. Many websites would no longer be necessary and Googling would be superfluous. After all, a chatbot searches for the solutions directly and learns a little bit more each time. In ten years at the latest, we will be able to talk to our chatbot like a good friend, saving time because it will have a good answer prepared for every question. There’s only one question it cannot answer: What should it be called?
Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.