The Chatbot – Friend or Foe to Customer Service?

Mitchel White
April 1, 2021

Although the machines haven’t risen up against humanity quite yet, there’s no denying that AI is cropping up in every corner of the web. And when AI infiltrates the digital sphere, it can go one of two ways: it can become distractingly obvious, frustrating and groan-inducing, or it can imitate human interaction deceptively well. There’s no prizes for guessing which style of bot your customers want to interact with. Just think about the times you have rolled your eyes when put through to an automated phone service. Cringed at its stilted attempt at human speech. Hung up when it fails to register what you’re saying. It’s no big claim to say that chatbots can be just as soul-draining, mind-numbing, and time-wasting. Thankfully, there are ways that a chatbot can be used to enhance customer service, to help find that approachable, conversational sweet spot.

Chatbots – Customer Service that People Don’t Want?

The numbers don’t lie, 60% of people still prefer to wait for a customer service representative rather than talk to a chatbot. But if chatbots were merely a nuisance, they wouldn’t be on the rise. Chatbots saw a 92% use increase since 2019, making it the brand communication channel with the largest growth. This growth isn’t necessarily down to cost. Sometimes, chatbots can offer a cheaper alternative to hiring customer service representatives to work around the clock. Sometimes, they can cost a pretty premium. According to Mobile Monkey, certain chatbots can total around $1000 a month to run. One source puts the cost of developing a chatbot internally at over a whopping $300,000. So how does a company justify the money and effort spent on chatbot technology? Well, when used correctly, chatbots can enhance brand identity, customer service, provide 24 hour support, and even help convert visitors into customers.

Chatbots – How do They Work?

People interact with a chatbot in one of two ways: voice or text. If their voice is used, the chatbot first turns the voice data input into text using automatic speech recognition technology. Text only chatbots will skip this step. The bot then analyses the text input, chooses the best response and sends it back to the user. The chatbot’s reply can be delivered in any number of ways – including as written text and voice via text to speech tools. It’s worth noting that understanding people isn’t easy for a machine. The subtle way humans communicate is a very complex task to recreate artificially (even in literature – you don’t read too many ‘umms and ahhs’ in dialogue), and so AI bots use several natural language principles to help it along.

To put a highly technical concept very simply, these natural language processing principles are how chatbots tell the difference between human sentences and words. They belong to a branch of artificial intelligence that I won’t go into fully – but that deals with the interaction between computers and humans.

One of the most overlooked elements of a successful chatbot is its personality. By this I mean, the combination of behaviour, tone of voice and characteristics that its been programmed to follow. In fact – research by Tuva Lunde Smestad has found that personality plays a vital part in how we perceive chatbots.

Make Room for Friendly Chit-Chat

No doubt there’s a lot to be said for the appeal of attentive customer service – this is all the more true when you factor in the loss of our everyday interactions during lockdown. It’s also true that faith in tech seems to be on the decline. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in the tech sector declined by 6 points globally last year. The report put the drop down to the proliferation of misinformation, privacy concerns and increased awareness of bias in artificial intelligence. It’s all the more important to use chatbots the right way: by respecting and engaging with the people that use them. It’s clear – lazy chatbot design is just another way businesses can alienate their customers.

Chatbots can be programmed with different types of conversational styles, from technical, to helpful, to sassy. And just like human conversation, it’s crucial that your chatbot has a distinct personality. It’s so obvious that it’s often overlooked – chatbots are meant to chat with humans, not with other bots. Personality is what makes a bot engaging, impactful and a good reflection of your brand. Without a clearly defined personality, conversation is bound to be static, frustrating and a reminder of why customers are losing trust in tech. It’s as simple as this: if you yourself were talking instead of the bot, what tone of voice would you use to be the best brand ambassador possible? Crucially, there’s much conversational AI technology built around these questions, designed specifically to deliver realistic and engaging sounding speech. Unlike traditional chatbot technology, conversational AI uses deep learning to mimic an authentic voice.

Conversational Bot Technology

At first glance, traditional chatbot technology and AI-powered conversational platforms may seem very similar – they’re both fed scripts for one. However, the technology could not be more different: the training, the personalisation, the capacity to improve and provide tailored customer service are in totally different leagues.

So where am I going here? It’s the newer, more advanced, conversational AI technology that is going to help you use chatbots in a way that helps rather than hinders your brand. According to Accenture, 60% of surveyed executives plan to implement conversational AI technology to help with chatbot customer service, including after-sales, tech support and social media. Most conversational chatbots can be seamlessly integrated into a website or apps. Often, customers can talk to your brand at any time without leaving messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.
There’s a host of conversational chatbot platforms out there. We won’t tell you which to use – but what is important is that when working with AI engineers, make very clear your intentions, brand personality and company ethos. The takeaway is simple – lazy, formulaic decision-tree technology isn’t going to add to your chatbot customer service experience. In fact, they’re going to work against your brand. It’s an old adage, but one that still applies: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.

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