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Chatbots - The Future of Customer Service
Chatbots are set to shift the customer service landscape. But what are their pros and cons?

April 10th, 2017

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Emma Martins



A chatbot is a computer program designed to hold conversations with humans. They’re not always built to use intelligent learning, like Siri or Cortana. But they can usually carry out simple commands and simulate normal, human interactions. You might have chatted with one before and not even known it. Chatbot technology is becoming more and more common within the customer service (CS) world, especially on social media. And, according to most predictions, they will only become more prevalent. So if you want to stay relevant as a business, and care about what your customers want, you may want to give chatbots a bit of thought.

The pros and cons of using chatbots

Give your customers what they want

The biggest pro about using chatbots is that it’s probably what your customers want. According to The 2016 Mobile Messaging Report by Ubisend, 45% of people would rather use messaging than an email to contact a company. And 49% would rather use messaging than phone the company, showing just how important instant messaging has become to CS. But it doesn’t say a whole lot about chatbots. Consider this: nearly 50% of UK internet users are willing to use chatbots if they were offered in the CS process. So messaging is a popular way of contacting customer service and people are more than willing to use chatbots if they’re available. But surely you could just put CS operators onto social media, right? Only if you’re willing to pay for around the clock cover. According to the same report by Ubisend, 51% of people want businesses to be available 24/7. And in the midst of the Digital Age, who can blame them?

Chatbots can save you money

But do you really want to be shelling out for your operators to answer simple, FAQ questions like 'what are your delivery charges'? FAQ’s exist for a reason, right? This is where chatbots can help enormously. By setting up a chatbot on your social media or your website, you can steer less complicated questions and queries away from your human team and allow them to be dealt with by your chatbots. This means you don’t need to invest in bigger CS teams, which will save you money in the long-run.

Not only that, chatbots aren't that expensive to produce. They’re actually relatively quick and easy to manufacture when we compare them to the costs of setting up and running a CS team. This means you could have a chatbot set up pretty quickly and could be saving money in no time. They may take a little bit of tricky programming but it'll be worth it in the long run!

49% of people prefer instant messaging to the phone

Loss of jobs

Of course, chatbots replacing people usually means they're replacing jobs too. Chatbots are controversial for this concept alone. But, right now, it’s just that: a concept. At the moment, the industry is full of speculation. Chatbots are still up and coming and that means the aftermath of them is still being measured and predicted. In 2011, Gartner, the IT research and advisory firm, theorised that, by 2020, chatbots could be managing up to 85% of business’ customer relationships. That’s a lot of jobs lost to bots.

It’s no doubt that chatbots are seen as a threat to the CS operator. But the outcomes are still unknown. In fact, a Forrester survey indicated that 64% of companies in the survey were planning to add more operators to their team, not reduce the workforce.

Chatbots are not human

Herein lies one of the biggest problems with chatbots. They simply are not human. Of course, this means that they don’t tire, don’t need a break, and don’t get angry at ranting customers. But this lack of emotion is also their downfall.  Although the technology industry is dreaming of a day when robots will gain sentience and blend in with other humans, chatbots are just not designed for this. They perform their tasks, and perform them well, but they can never replace the emotional touch that a human operator can bring.

In fact, this emotionless core can actually be aggravating. How often do we hear the complaint ‘I just want to talk to someone’? It’s a common cliché in the CS world which chatbots are not helping with. If your customers have simple, FAQ style questions or actions to perform, chatbots are fantastic. For anything more complicated or nuanced, you just can’t beat a good, old-fashioned, human being. 

What kind of companies use chatbots?

The short answer? More than you think! Chatbots are actually surprisingly popular in many industries, from finance to hospitality to us here in outsourcing. Here are some specific examples of chatbots used in CS.

You can order pizza via Twitter. Winning.
You can order Domino's pizza by interacting with their chatbot. What a time to be alive.

Banks                  

Facebook has over 33,000 chatbots already running on their messaging service. In the last year, banks have started to utilise this function and are starting to create their own chatbots. American Express was the first to launch a chatbot and Mastercard is set to release their chatbot this year, which will be available for banks to use and edit. Any Mastercard holders can connect their cards to Facebook Messenger and can then ask the chatbot – named ‘Mastercard KAI’ – about the status of their accounts and other similar inquiries.

Perhaps it seems a little dangerous to be connecting your bank details to something like Facebook. What if the information isn’t confidential? What if there is some kind of hack? Similar things have been said of mobile banking in the past. But how many of us now have a handy little app on our phone to check our account whenever we want? All new technology will inherently have a growing period, with risks and sometimes even mistakes. But being able to send a quick Facebook message to our banks instead of waiting in queues on the phone seems like a pretty decent idea to us.

Twitter

Twitter has recently launched two new features for their direct messages. “Welcome messages” allows businesses to set up a bot to welcome people into a conversation. As soon as the window is opened, a bot can be there to say hello; the customer doesn’t even have to type a word. Not only that, they can be used to ask what kind of issue the customer is experiencing and even link to certain places – such as apps or a website – to receive specific kinds of customer service. This way, by the time an operator picks up the chat, they already have a general idea of what’s going on and will be more prepared to help.

Twitter’s second feature, “quick replies”, allows users to pick their answers from a list or enter specific values. This helps speed up the whole process since the bot can read these pre-programmed responses and give advice or help accordingly. For more simple interactions, the customer may never even have to deal with an operator, leaving them more time to handle more complicated interactions.

Quite a few well-known brands are already using these features, including Pizza Hut. You can now order your pizza within Twitter; what a time to be alive. According to the Global Chief Digital Officer at Pizza Hut, it’s “easy for our customers to order their favourites from Pizza Hut. […] This platform allows our consumers to quickly order or get information within Twitter where they are already spending a great deal of their time.”

So what’s the bottom line?

How will chatbots affect customer service?

Pizza hut allows you to order food via Twitter. Life goals achieved.

If everything goes as predicted and chatbots continue to grow in popularity, the effect on CS could be very impressive. Jo Allison, consumer behavioural analyst, says that “the potential chatbots have to improve customer service is exciting because it’s very real”. And it definitely is. According to Allison, customers expect an answer from a brand on a social network within four hours. This kind of speedy reply is usually not the case. But chatbots can respond instantly, any time of day. 

And because of that alone, the potential to revolutionise how we provide CS is quite exciting for us in the industry. For us, our operators could never be replaced, but they can certainly be helped by their machine brethren. Chatbots can help bridge that gap between a customer with an issue and an operator with a resolution, making the whole process smoother and pain-free on both sides.

Of course, chatbots still have a long way to go. Right now, problems can still occur. In 2016, Microsoft launched a chatbot on Twitter called Tay. Tay was designed to learn from those it interacted with, which is fairly complex for a chatbot. It was an attempt to improve the technology behind them. However, the internet being what it is, Tay quickly went off the rails. Supporting Hitler and denying the holocaust were just a couple things the bot learned from the people it interacted with before it was quickly removed.

Yet chatbots have been said to be the new ‘apps’. Just as apps launched into our lives some time ago, Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, believes that chatbots will do the very same thing. Once they truly take off the ground, there will be no looking back.  Allison quite neatly says that, “AI-driven programs have huge potential so long as they can get better at understanding language contextually, and learn to avoid being tricked into promoting genocide.”

With a little investment, chatbots may become the next best thing. And they're already being used by companies to aid their CS departments. At FM, we do our best to be aware of every CS trend and technology so that's why we've recently developed our very own chatbot! So if you'd like to work with a team of dedicated staff – who know a thing or two about this whole chatbot business – get in touch with us today.

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About the author

Emma Martins
Position of Editor & Writer