By Professor Farhad Oroumchian
The recent progression of technology has seen businesses shifting from traditional to digital platforms to interact with consumers. Organisations these days use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to carry out various transactional and business activities digitally. On such technique that has recently grown in popularity and application is the use of chatbots.
A chatbot is an automated program that interacts with customers like a human would and costs little to nothing to engage with. People these days prefer a simplistic way of receiving information, through chats and hence, chatbots fit in well with the consumer psychology. Chatbots attend to customer needs 24X7 and are not limited by time or a place. This feature makes the technology and its implementation appealing to many companies that may not have the finances or manpower to keep their customer service running around the clock.
Chatbots play a vital role in streamlining customer service for an organisation. There are plenty of basic questions consumers ask, and chatbots instead of customer service staff can be appointed to answer these and staff can focus on questions or issues that require a human touch.
For example, in real estate business, customers require a lot of information but they prefer to access this information and make up their mind before actually speaking to a real estate agent. In this case, chatbots as real estate agents who are not human, play a key role in providing the required information and even sales pitches in some cases without the customer having to talk to real agents. This is the reason why real estate business are heavy users of chatbots. The AI technology can show potential customers houses, answer questions, give suggestions and make customized offers and once customer is ready, the conversation can be transferred to a human agent.
The main challenge of using chatbots in an organisations is the depth of conversation. Creating a chatbot is easy given the current state of technology but building a believable chatbot is not as easy. Chatbots have to know when they are failing in answering questions or continuing the conversation and transfer the conversation to an agent otherwise, customers will leave.
There are many cases wherein chatbots are described as annoying rather than helpful by their customers. Mostly because they are unable to identify the failure and they keep continuing a vain conversation till the customer gets bored or frustrated and leaves the conversation.
That being said, the future of chatbot technology is still bright, because of rapid advancement in natural language processing (the science of making sense of what humans talk or write) and with the ease of making mobile and internet applications there will plenty of smarter chatbots.
Chatbots are soon expected to replace most of customer service work. In the near future, a consumer’s first point of contact with any organisation will not be human. Many layers of intelligent agents will attend to customers’ needs before them having to interact with an actual human being.
Farhad Oroumchian is the Associate Dean (Education), Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences and Engineering, University of Wollongong in Dubai.