We Need to Talk about Chatbots

Has hype damaged bots in business?

How many times have you contacted a customer services helpline and been greeted by an artificial voice, or directed to an ‘online assistant’? These business tools now characterise the initial contact between a customer and a company, making actual human exchanges increasingly uncommon. One of the ways in which companies have moved towards automation is through chatbots. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard of (and probably used) the responsive digital assistants. The problem is, many bots have proven to be less than helpful. This march, Facebook reported a 70 per cent failure rate for chatbot responses. So, are conversational interfaces still poised to disrupt CRM, or are chatbots dead in the water?

Quantity over quality
When the hype around chatbots first began, developers and businesses flocked to create their own artificially intelligent assistants. The merits were clear – streamline customer services, gather data from digital exchanges and build a better relationship with consumers. And then, the inevitable happened – the hype began to overtake reality. Customers became annoyed when bots were unable to understand or answer questions, leading to apathy. But the number of chatbots just kept on growing. Earlier this year, there were more than 33,000 bots on Messenger alone. The higher quality chatbots, which certainly exist, were lost in the crowd. The rise of chatbots presents a perfect example of the Hype Cycle in action, which explains the developmental stages of a product or service. After initial innovation and inflated expectations, the product or service can enter a phase of disillusionment in which it fails to live up to the hype. Not too long ago, it seemed as if chatbots were firmly positioned in this stage. Fortunately, companies are beginning to address some of the underlying issues with conversational interfaces. Facebook, for instance, has equipped their chatbots with the power of negotiation, helping to simulate a more realistic chat. By working on conversational ability, companies are moving towards the next stage of the Hype Cycle – enlightenment. This is the final stage before mainstream adoption, or in other words, mass disruption. According to Gartner, 85 per cent of CRM will be automated by 2020. Reimagined chatbots could still play a key role in enabling automation, and if the Gartner prediction is accurate, they may even be necessary.

How will quality chatbots disrupt businesses?
Before chatbots are going to make a real impact in customer relations, marketing, and business efficiency, they need to have a defined purpose. What’s perhaps most important is that they can successfully meet their brief. If this can be achieved, chatbots will alter the nature of customer service. At the moment, customers still expect to deal with a human being at some stage in their enquiry. Once chatbots offer a relevant response to consumer questions, this will become a rarity. And although chatbots haven’t killed off apps quite yet, there’s still potential for this to happen. If a company can connect with customers and clients through messaging apps, why bother running a separate app that delivers essentially the same service? Interacting with digital interfaces could also help people to become more at ease with automation, gradually encouraging them to accept AI’s growing presence in their daily lives. Generally, chatbots offer a personalised and prompt platform which is beneficial to both clients and companies. Of course, the human touch will remain an important CRM tool, but it will be largely reserved for sensitive and complicated situations.

In short, the chatbot craze is far from over. Marketers are still backing chatbots, and it’s easy to see why. The AI powered assistants can deal with customer requests more efficiently than human operatives, whilst at the same time collecting data about consumers themselves. Unfortunately, high expectations have made it difficult for bots to develop as a service. In light of fresh attempts to build relevant chatbots, the technology still shows massive potential. Developers and businesses now know what to do to get the most out bots. . . but will the consumer market give them a second chance?

Has your business installed a chatbot? Can bots overcome their setbacks to become powerful customer service platforms? Are chatbots emerging from the third phase of the Hype Cycle? Comment below with your opinions.