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Chatbots in digital customer communication: Why? Wherefore? And how?

Chatbots in digital customer communication: Why? Wherefore? And how?

Many people are talking about chatbots – and some are already talking with them. They make customer communication more efficient and easier, because consumers obtain more information about a product they’re interested in by asking simple questions. So does every company need its own bot?

Most consumers have probably already experienced a simple form of a chatbot. “If you have a question about your contract, please press 1 …” These chatbots don’t have to “know” very much; they simply forward the caller to the right person. But as communication with the customer becomes more sophisticated, there is a corresponding increase in the volume of data that a bot must be able to process. There is no doubt about their usefulness: “Chatbots are a win for both companies and customers. Companies can make their communication more efficient with chatbots, and consumers learn more about the product with simple questions,” says Timm Lutter, head of the section Consumer Electronics and Digital Media at Bitkom, the trade association for digital technology. Moreover, chatbots can be used in a huge variety of ways.

In the development phase

But building an artificial intelligence (AI) and integrating it successfully into customer communication is not at all easy. One example is negation. If a visitor to an online shop indicates, either verbally or in writing, that he is looking for swimming trunks, the chatbot registers the keyword and searches the database for those swimming trunks. But if the input is, “I’m looking for short pants, but not swimming trunks,” then the bot has two keywords to process, one of which isn’t even wanted. How is a simple bot supposed to understand that? Timm Lutter says: “Many chatbots are still in the development phase. But the natural language recognition is developing very rapidly. Advanced systems are already capable of learning, and they can understand and evaluate content.”

Use existing platforms

Experts are advising companies not to fall into wild actionism in B2C communication and develop their own chatbot software. “With regard to range and the technology and data-processing demands, there’s no avoiding the large platforms like Facebook, Google and Apple in the medium and long term,” predicts Alexander Käppler of Diconium Digital Solutions in an article for HORIZONT online. The reason is that the opening of these platforms for external applications makes it relatively easy to integrate a variety of chatbots into them, and they are then available to a very large audience. But there are no blueprints for chatbots – each of them has to be developed individually for every company fulfilling their specific needs.

Some digital persuasion needed

Then there is also the question of whether customers will even accept a chatbot as a source of answers. With a representative survey conducted in early 2017, Bitkom, the trade association for digital technology, determined that one in every four people in Germany could see themselves using a chatbot – three-quarters of the respondents were skeptical, however. Most of them don’t want to communicate with a computer. Half of the skeptics doubt the reliability of the information and don’t think the technology is mature enough yet. In other words, there is still some digital convincing to do. And the best way to do that is with quality.

For personal appointments and online shopping

On the other hand, the Bitkom survey found that most people who can imagine using chatbots would like to use them as assistants for scheduling their appointments. With a voice command, users can tell a bot to compare their calendar with that of a colleague and schedule an appointment. Two thirds of those willing to use chatbots want to reserve and buy movie or theater tickets with them. More than half would like to use them for online shopping. Four out of ten think that chatbots would be useful in customer service to handle queries about orders and complaints. And a quarter of those who support chatbots would be interested in using them for delivery services – to order food or flowers with voice commands, for instance.

The requirements: attractive, cost-effective and efficient

In the white paper “Oh my bot, I can’t believe it,” T-Systems asserts that consumers are no longer satisfied with unattractive platforms and standardized processes. They want systems that are tailored to their needs – systems that use their preferred channel for interaction, their preferred manner of interaction and have short response times. The challenge companies face is to meet this set of requirements in ways that are attractive, cost-effective and efficient, without putting off customers. Just how these solutions will be designed – that’s the exciting chatbot question of the near future.

Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.
Image: kirill_makarov – Fotolia/Adobe Stock

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