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Chatbots and AI in the customer experience equation

By Gene De Libero , Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Chatbots are not new, but they hit the news recently when Facebook announced they’re implementing and planning for businesses to use chatbots through their platform. If you’re not familiar with chatbots, an article from NBC News describes them well: “Bots are simple artificial intelligence systems that you interact with via text. Those interactions can be straightforward, like asking a bot to give you a weather report, or more complex, like having one troubleshoot a problem with your internet service.”

On April 15, 2016 Mark Zuckerburg announced that Facebook’s Messenger app is slated to become a vehicle for customers to interact with companies directly. Facebook hopes to eventually make their Messenger system more perceptive than a human customer service encounter. Businesses have to tell their Messenger bots exactly how they want them to interact with customers, so you have the opportunity to build your very own Artificially Intelligent Customer Service Representative. Forty plus businesses have built customer service into Messenger, and that number continues to climb.

Forrester Social Media Analyst Erna Alfred Liousas explains, however, that it wouldn’t be wise to put all our faith into bots when it comes to ensuring a remarkable customer experience: “Bots bring about a measure of efficiency, especially as a first line of interaction, but the experience has not been fully developed,” she says. “Marketers can’t put the weight or value of interactions in the hands of bots just yet.”

Are bots a good idea? At the heart of our omnichannel world is the idea of reaching consumers wherever they are, in that 8.25-second, goldfish-attention-span micro-moment when they’re open to communicating with you. Bots, via a Messenger platform like Facebook’s for instance, may well give you the opportunity to offer consumers that on-the-spot experience consistently.

Consumers have become accustomed to using AI platforms like Siri and Google Voice to give them immediate answers to their questions. AI platforms on smartphones resolve an issue immediately; they can find a hotel, call a restaurant, give directions, or resolve a random question about who won the 1974 World Series (Oakland Athletics). It makes sense that consumers will be apt to use a bot service just as readily to get the answers they seek, or make the purchase they desire.

Bank of America is building a bot with Facebook’s Messenger platform to serve its customers and Capital One gives its customers the option of interacting with them using Amazon’s Alexa (a voice activated AI service) to make payments, hear account information and more.

The bottom line is that bots and AI can provide convenience and value to consumers. The Messenger platform Facebook’s proposing is one consumers likely already use, making it even more seamless to encourage them to interact with you through that vehicle. Utilizing AI and/or bots could open up new touchpoints and ways to add value to the customer’s experience with your brand. While it is still very early, bots offer some intriguing value propositions:

  • Bots give you the opportunity to offer your customer real-time recommendations. They can be given the power to make suggestions (prescriptive analytics anyone) based on the conversation they’re having with your customer—and those suggestions can be immediate links to purchase options or opt-ins that could lead to purchases later. Bots can afford you true real-time actionable engagement with your customer.
  • Bots can reduce friction, or consumer’s aversion, to new products or services. Instead of having to deal with human-to-human interactions that can be uncomfortable (do any of us enjoy being hit head-on with a salesperson offering a new service or product?), consumers are given information via bot, which can come in the form of pictures or links, and can peruse their choices without any pressure (real or perceived).
  • Bots give you the opportunity to learn more about customers who don’t offer information readily in other communication settings. If you have a customer who doesn’t share much information while talking on the phone, it may be that same customer is ready and willing to spill when they “talk” to a bot instead of a person.
Apple, Microsoft, and Google also offer platforms from which to build your own customer service bot, so there are plenty of options out there to explore if you’re ready to take the bot plunge.

However, it’s important to remember that while Artificial Intelligence can be a great tool to help our consumers with a lot of issues, and yes, make their experience that much more seamless with our brand, we have to keep the human touch option available to our consumers, too. Although chatting with a bot can solve a lot of questions and concerns immediately, right now, bots aren’t capable of picking up on innuendo like other humans might—at least, not yet.

Creating a stellar customer experience is never going to be about getting that one thing right; it will always be about focusing on the customer and ensuring that each and every touchpoint along their journey provides value and is as seamless as possible.

Have you used chatbots in the past or are you considering using them in the future as a part of your CX toolkit? I’d love to hear from you below or ping me on Twitter.

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