Exceeding Expectations with Chatbots

    If you work in the worlds of communications, retail or sales, you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘omni-channel’ mentioned more than once. The notion that customers expect to be able to communicate with your brand across a variety of channels has been around since the 90s.

    The truth is that omni-channel is dated terminology. Your customers now move fluidly and intuitively between channels that they don’t perceive any real difference. Driven by digitalisation, customer expectations have evolved, and businesses are struggling to keep up.

    In an attempt to meet these expectations, a growing number of organisations are turning to chatbots. While chatbots have been around for nearly as long as the phrase ‘omni-channel’, advancements in the underlying technology, combined with shifts in consumer behaviour, have finally made bots a viable communication tool and they seem poised to change the way businesses interact with their customers.

    An inflection point

    The rise of chatbot technology can be attributed to several factors. First, we have made quantum leaps in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence. We’ve come a long way since IBM’s Deep Blue managed to defeat world chess champion, Garry Kasparov.

    The widespread use of Internet-enabled technology has created a world of big data and researchers, developers and vendors are developing deep learning algorithms that draw on this wealth of 0s and 1s. Cloud computing, combined with increased bandwidth, now allow even low-power devices to tap into vast compute resources, essentially putting a supercomputer in every back pocket.

    There has also been rapid progression in the study of natural language processing. Virtual assistants like Alexa, Cortana and Siri have become commonplace and the data from these interactions is helping researchers take the technology to new and exciting places.

    How customers communicate

    While it is the culmination of these technologies that have made chatbots a viable solution for businesses, the real catalyst has been a wider shift in communication behaviour. When Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old telecoms engineer sent the first SMS message in 1992, he probably wasn’t aware that the humble text message would play a role in fundamentally changing the way that human beings interact.

    There are more than 4.1 billion users now using messaging apps worldwide. More than half of the top 10 most used apps globally are messaging apps. In a relatively short period of time, messaging has become one of the most dominant communication channels for B2C interactions. A recent study found that 66% of consumers now prefer to reach businesses (or be reached by businesses) though messaging apps. Customer-facing organisations have picked up on this shift in communication behaviour. A recent study from Mobilesquared found that the growth rate of mobile messaging systems outperformed all other communication amongst businesses between 2013 and 2017, with a CAGR of 20%.

    Of course, messaging platforms lend themselves to chatbot technology and most of the major providers have now embraced the concept. For example, Facebook announced in 2016 that businesses would be able to leverage bots to interact with customers. Slack, LINE, WhatsApp and other messaging platforms are also proving to be ideal platforms for chat bot interactions.

    From a developer perspective, it is becoming much more straightforward to create complex chatbots capable of delivering rich experiences for customers. There are now a number of SaaS providers, such as ChattyPeople, MEOKAY and Beep Boop, that are making it easier for companies to dip their toes into this new world.

    A means to an end

    This isn’t a fringe movement. From sales and marketing to customer service and after-sales support, chatbots are already playing a significant role in B2C communications. Gartner believes that chatbots will power 85% of all customer service interactions by 2020.

    Of course, you should always remember that while the technology may have changed, the fundamental rules of customer care remain the same. Like any technology – chatbots are a means to an end. Customer care has always been – and will always be - about listening to your customers, creating meaningful interactions and exceeding their expectations each time they reach out to you.
     

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