So here we are on Election Day in the U.S. Seems like yesterday — and yet, ages ago — when Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy in April 2015 and Donald Trump did the same two months later. But since then, many chatbots have popped up just for the pure purpose of shedding light on the campaigns. There’s one that will register you to vote, another that will find your polling location and one to answer questions for Colorado voters. As for specific, candidate-related chatbots, there are siloed ones for Donald, like one nicknamed “Trumpbot,” and some for Hillary, including “HillYEAH2016.” There are others, like “Ask Hillary & Donald,” that allow voters to ask questions that will pit the candidates against each other. And of course, if you’re already missing the outgoing president, there’s a chatbot for you to ask President Obama a few last questions.
“Bots created by/for candidates and parties can be useful in order for people to be able to follow candidates and parties and get information about campaigns and political issues and causes,” said Thomas Staven, product strategist at Unit4, which focuses on innovative technology in the enterprise. “A chatbot could also be a simple way for candidates/parties to push information and create engagement among followers.”
Sure, chatbots are intended to further connect with customers — or voters, in this case — through a more modern platform, where they are spending more of their time. But is all of this just info or fodder, or is it a mix? Experts say there’s a limit to the chatbots’ usefulness and implications.
“What would be a much more interesting chatbot is one that is independent of candidates/parties and is there only to drive engagement, awareness and increase participation in elections in general,” said Staven. “Raising people’s general awareness and engaging people to vote is important to any democracy, and if we could increase participation by making it easy for people to register and vote through, for example, using the technology of a chatbot, this could have a benefit for the democratic society as a whole.”
Of course, in these election-related cases, people engaging know that they are indeed connected to a chatbot, rather than the “real thing” — Hillary, Trump or otherwise. In the real chatbot world, many times people don’t even realize they’re talking with a chatbot. That said, there are some blaring and iconic signs that could be addressed in order to make the chatbot experience smoother.
“A telling sign that you are connecting with a chatbot is if it fails to recognize what you are saying unless it is phrased in a very specific syntax,” said Rurik Bradbury, global head of research at LivePerson, a provider of mobile and online messaging business solutions. “Most bots won’t respond accurately to more colloquial or unusual phrasing.”
Bradbury said that, according to LivePerson research, about 50 percent of consumers interacting with chatbots are concerned they will have a frustrating experience and need to constantly repeat themselves. Historically — and still today — chatbots are unable to accurately interpret consumer questions in a natural way, because they can’t understand the consumer’s intent.
The phrasing of a question seems to be an issue that pervades many chatbots. And then there’s the issue of tapping into a customer’s appropriate data and previous purchase history.
“A truly intelligent bot can do all of these things — understand natural language, recognize a consumer’s true intent, and deliver relevant, personalized service,” said Scott Horn, CMO of 7, a global customer experience company powered by AI technology. “Ultimately, consumers won’t discriminate between a bot or a human if the bot is as effective as the company’s top-performing agent.”
But the bigger issue may be that consumers are concerned that they’ll get tricked in some way by a bot. Many consumers are aware that computers could be smarter than humans in some ways but also have their own technical faults.
“Around 80 percent of people, when asked in a survey of 3,000 U.S. consumers, in October 2016, said that they always want to be told if they are chatting with a bot or a human, rather than having it hidden,” said Bradbury. “So trying to obfuscate it is not a good idea.”
But for those companies that are still on the fence about whether to get a chatbot, that decision — like the election — is a personal one. And at the same time, not all chatbots are created equal.
“Any company thinking about launching a chatbot should consider the fact that implementing the technology isn't difficult, but building an engaging experience requires an investment in content,” said Erez Baum, cofounder and CEO of Imperson. “A successful chatbot delivers unique and authentic content infused with brand voice and personality.”
But adding a chatbot, experts say, should indeed be rising to the top of the list, no matter what side of the (chatbot) aisle the business leans.
“All companies should have this on their agendas today. It is becoming completely natural for us to talk to organizations and companies via chats, both from an employee and a customer perspective,” said Staven at Unit4. Calling chatbots a “no-brainer,” he underscored that chatbots are beneficial not only from a cost perspective but from an intelligence, guidance, prescriptive solutions aspect as well.
Bradbury at LivePerson agreed that adding a chatbot is complex and not a single-purpose addition.
“LivePerson research among U.S. consumers shows that 67 percent of consumers believe chatbots exist primarily as a cost-cutting option for companies, and this perception will remain if the bots are not effectively being used in a way that benefits the consumer,” said Bradbury.
And benefiting the customer who does tend to want to pick and choose, as well as self-serve, experts say, could play out well in the long run for all parties.
“Asking consumers to navigate an FAQ page on the website or call a 1-800 number will create a much slower path to resolution for the consumer,” said Horn at /7. “But of course any company that invests in chatbot technology should make it easy for consumers to escalate their query to a live agent, if needed. This combination of automated and live assistance is a winning formula.”
And winning is what it’s all about, right? Just ask Hillary, Donald and their chatbots.