Planet of the Chatbots
What exactly is a chatbot and why are we hearing so much about them lately? It’s a software-based persona you can talk to to perform tasks, find information or simply for entertainment. They have become quite prolific as more companies enlist their help for customer service. We recognize them as the computerized voice we hear or text we see when we contact a company’s customer service or use a chatbox, asking us how we can be helped.
We also know some chatbots by name, like Siri and Cortana. Apple uses the Siri chatbot to do your internet searching for you. Just hold down your iPhone home button and like a genie in a bottle, Chatbot Siri asks you for your wish. As long as it can be found on the internet, Siri should be able to answer you. Of course, many things are lost in translation and we often get answers completely off the mark. And that’s the problem with chatbots.
To Bot or Not to Bot
While we may envision a robot on the other side of the curtain, it’s actually just software; artificially intelligent software that is in no way as adept as a human mind. The software is designed to be friendly, accommodating, resourceful, and helpful. Businesses employ them to help give customers what they want more quickly, more affordably, and more conveniently than a human agent might be able to do. They also are trying to solve for scale, answering as many customer service and sales issues as possible on a global scale.
But the question of whether to use chatbots or not really comes down to customer expectations. Do we expect to talk to a human when we need to refill a prescription? Do we want a chatbot when we need to report credit card fraud? Herein lies the dilemma: chatbots are better than humans for some things, and humans are better than chatbots for other things.
Companies must find ways to integrate both into their customer service model, offering the convenience and speed of chatbots for those situations that warrant them, and providing live human agents for those circumstances that need a bit more of a personal touch. This is applicable through any delivery channel, including popular messaging apps like the number one and two apps, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Case in Point
You go into your favorite store’s app that’s downloaded on your device to order a pair of jeans. You are searching the catalog and a chatbox pops up asking you if you need assistance. You type in, “I am looking for a pair of size 8 jeans but everything I like doesn’t have my size in stock.”
The chatbox is manned by a chatbot who replies with a canned response, “I am sorry you are having trouble finding your item. Let me see if I can find it for you.” After a few moments, the chatbot returns with three options, all of which are size 8. Great job, Mr. Chatbot.
But not so fast. All of the items Mr. C suggested are acid wash and you haven’t worn acid wash since 1985. You type “I don’t like acid wash. Are there more options?” Mr. C comes back with another pre-written response, “I am sorry you don’t like the items. Let me find more options.” This time, he returns with size 8 khaki pants. Unless you were planning on getting a job at Best Buy, you’re probably not in the market for khaki pants. Now you are getting a little frustrated because the chatbot that was supposed to save you time is now wasting it.
The company above could have done something better to handle the situation. If it had integrated chatbot functionality with human intuition and a messaging capability like Facebook Messenger, a human would have taken over as soon as the first options were discarded and began a one-on-one dialogue with the customer.
Instead of a chatbot returning with items that became less relevant with each effort, a human could have jumped into the exchange and said, “This is Diane. It looks like we are out of inventory for the jeans you like in your size but I can back order them for you and ship them to you free of charge, plus a 25 percent discount for your time.” Now that’s customer service.
Human Conversation Still Matters
Of course, chatbots can be used for infinitely more than finding merchandise or searching the web for information. Technology is evolving where chatbots are becoming smarter and doing more. It’s all based on the simple concept of conversation.
While technology has reshaped an entire culture, at our core, we all still desire conversation. We are conversational beings. Consumers want to have conversations with each other, of course, but with brands, too. Companies have struggled in the past to scale conversations beyond outbound marketing and public social media to one-on-one, private dialogue with consumers. The opportunity is to balance chatbot and human interaction to deliver conversational marketing connecting brands and consumers like never before.
The Hybrid Approach
Even though smarter chatbots are on the horizon, companies must recognize bots shouldn’t completely replace humans when it comes to customer service. It can be risky for marketers concerned about experience and perception. The only way to de-risk these programs and ensure they deliver positive brand experiences is to bring chatbots into the relationship on an as needed basis. Even with a chatbot, a human hand and heart is required to deliver quality interactions with other humans because chatbots lack the empathy, emotion and contextual awareness only humans can bring.
Here’s how the human/chatbot relationship works:
A human creates the program and the chatbot via software. Humans also set the guidelines and choose how to monitor the chatbot conversations so they can tailor responses or add a human agent to the conversation when chatbots run into trouble.
When is a chatbot most well-received? Routine activities, such as triage, discovery questions, collecting contact information, surveys, etc. They are great at maintaining a standard of experience. You can depend on a bot to deliver a greeting, explaining the rules of a game or contest, and answering FAQs.
When is a human agent most appreciated? Any situation other than routine may trigger a human agent. How will the chatbot know? That’s when the human touch comes in. A human agent can monitor multiple chatbot conversations simultaneously and recognize when a customer question is outside of chatbot understanding. A human agent can join the conversation and make it just that – a conversation; a one-on-one, private interaction consumers often desire.
We foresee a future where chatbots are commonplace in many areas of our lives and at the same time, humans are still necessary to build the technology and enrich customer service engagements with a human heart. One-on-one conversations that seamlessly blend human intelligence with AI technology will become the model for any B2C company looking to build customer relationships and loyalty.
Ready to take the next step? Join us on October 13 for a live webinar to learn more about conversational marketing in Facebook Messenger. We’ll go into depth on how to use Messenger to drive loyalty and retention, how to incorporate Message Us CTAs with Facebook sponsored posts and digital ads, and how to enhance chatbot programs. Check it out!