Chatbot Tracker: The Greats, The Bums And The ‘Now What?’

There’s no doubt that, most of the time, chatbots are beneficial to the future of online commerce, payments and interaction with consumers. While not fully mainstream — most customers don’t even realize they’re connected to a bot — they do seem to be popping up everywhere.

First, let’s talk about all those wonderful benefits and joys the chatbots bring to our lives.

“Chatbots can bring speed of service, instant availability (24/7) and, when done right, a simple interface which leads to streamlined conversations,” said Rurik Bradbury, global head of research at LivePerson, a leading provider of mobile and online messaging business solutions.

That around-the-clock service sure is one overlooked and underappreciated element.

“The biggest appeal of chatbots lies in the realization that, when customers reach out to companies, most of the issues they call about are known in advance,” said Codrin Arsene with Y Media Labs, an award winning digital product strategy and development agency in the Bay Area. “Once the specific use cases are identified and chatbots are configured accordingly, the user gets their answers faster and in a more convenient way (send a text message), while the company saves on operating costs.”

Costs on something many businesses are concerned with when they’re considering a chatbot. The underlying technology can be daunting, and the curiosity around what the true return on investment will be can be uncertain or undefined.

And, no, not every chatbot works perfectly. In fact, some companies try it and then opt out. Aceworkgear, for example: Did it scoot out and boot the bots too early? Who’s to say?

“On the technology side, this includes areas like natural language processing and predictive analytics — both areas that are not core competencies for most IT departments,” said Sanjay Aggarwal, partner at F-Prime Capital Partners, a global venture capital firm investing in technology, health care and life sciences. “On the integration side, the chatbot must directly integrate into the relevant systems of record for the company — CRM, help desk, order processing, finance and accounting, etc.”

That means the IT side of things has to look at the internal architecture of the chatbot in order for it to seamlessly integrate into the overall mission and goal of the company.

“Consumer engagement using chatbots is clearly here to stay. More and more consumer time on mobile is being spent on messaging platforms, and hence, brands must engage their audiences in the places where they are spending time,” said Aggarwal. “However, the quality of engagement on chatbots compared to what we see today must clearly improve, and brands must become more sophisticated in what they are trying to achieve.”

Sophistication can be a bit arbitrary when it comes to a chatbot. Not to mention how it melds into being a voice of the company, as well as its ability to connect with customers in an ironically humanizing way.

“The biggest issue is misunderstanding a customer’s issue. AI technology is still rudimentary and has a very difficult time discerning the intent of a customer,” said Bradbury at LivePerson. “So, when they’re presented to customers as if they’re a human, it often backfires when the bot gives a bad answer or says, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’”

Oh, for sure. We’ve all felt that frustration by phone when you’re calling your credit card company or an airline.

“Chatbots are configured to give answers to specific scenarios. They operate based on a ‘if this, then that’ algorithm,” said Arsene at Y Media Labs. “Which is great most of the time, but it can become very frustrating if the decision trees are not interchangeable.”

But how do we get to that point? Do we accept bots for what they are and then just wait for the better version to come out? Is that all we can do?

Bradbury has some recommendations: “Stop thinking about them as a panacea that can automate how companies can speak to customers. Start thinking of them as point solutions to speed up and automate routine conversations — address changes, payment details, forms to fill out.”

He said that this will make chatbots more useful to companies in the servicing of consumers, as opposed to experiments done on consumers. Ultimately, meaning that the customer comes first, in a way.

And that’s truly a solid, basic strategy that many experts agree on.

“Just like with an online software strategy, you need to have a clear roadmap for chatbot implementation and optimization,” said Arsene. “Many companies think of chatbots as a one-and-done deal, but they’re not.”

Chatbots aren’t appliances. They’re not like ovens: You can’t just set them and come back later for results. Experts say companies need to invest the time and effort — and money — into chatbots to make them work more efficiently.

They say that there is a growing perception that chatbots are basic, even dumb and more so impersonal. However, experts are quick to say that that’s the issue in and of itself.

“Chatbots as a technology is anything but dumb. It can expand, scale up, adopt, shift gears, collect data points and much more,” said Arsene. “Failure to implement it strategically by giving the project the right funding and the right people is what will result in a less-than-ideal experience.”

But what success doesn’t come without its drawbacks and bumps?



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