With a new era of artificial intelligence (AI) dawning upon us, it’s an incredible time for customer experience, with humongous benefits to the customer and ultrafast customer service. As AI technology matures, forward-thinking enterprises are plugging in conversational AI in their strategic investment roadmaps to leverage it for their customer service function. In fact, Gartner predicts that “conversational AI-first" will supersede "cloud-first, mobile-first" as the most important, high-level imperative for the next ten years.
Over the last several decades, customer service and customer experience had been all about customers seeking help from call centers, websites, emails, applications, and so on. However, in the last couple of years, the way we interact with technology has changed incredibly, and the good old days of mouse-icon-click are now ending.
NLP-infused chatbots and intelligent assistants: Futuristic sci-fi or current reality?
With the explosion of smartphone usage in the last decade, it can be conjectured that voice search has introduced AI-based personal assistance, and has given rise to the meteoric growth of bots among consumers.
Today, whether it's a digital personal assistant on your smartphone or a chatbot on your Facebook Messenger, conversational AI is a trend for digitally empowered consumers. According to a survey by MindMeld, a US-based provider of intelligent conversational voice interfaces, 55 percent of users who use voice assistants, use them on a daily or weekly basis.
Today, bots are not just being looked upon as personal assistants; brands that want to turbocharge their customer experience and engagement are increasingly adopting NLP-infused chatbots. These offer a conversational experience between the customer and the brand, bypassing the tedious path of emailing or dialing up the customer service department. The chatbot uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology to ask questions or give answers to customers and make them feel understood in real time, thereby effectively improving the customer assistance process.
To the brands, these NLP infused chatbots provide business intelligence about customers’ preferences, opinions, purchase behavior and human sentiments, in general. With their proven efficiency in handling customer questions without human intervention, it helps brands with huge cost and time saving. NLP technology infused in chatbots addresses the growing needs of digitally empowered consumers with 24x7 assistance. Chatbots never sleep and do not keep you waiting for resolution.
AI-powered bots are redefining customer experience
At the heart of our omnichannel operating ecosystem is the idea of instant gratification. With an average attention span less than that of a goldfish (8.25 seconds), customers get real-time solutions to their challenges or questions from AI-powered bots via a messenger platform like Facebook. 2016 has proved that bots are here to stay and they have made a bigger impact on customer service in the first half of 2017 too. Gartner predicts that an average person will have more conversations with bots than with their own spouse!
Facebook recently introduced a chatbot application in partnership with 1-800-FLOWERS, where consumers could speak to a virtual agent via a Facebook Messenger window and order flowers. The interesting thing to note here is that the bot will detect conversational cues to recommend arrangements that address customers’ preferences and needs. Clearly, this is a win for customer service as well as the brand.
Advantages of Conversational AI
Advances in artificial intelligence have led to the emergence of sophisticated conversational capabilities and enabled machines in taming one of the most important aspects for intelligent interactions – context. Though chatbots and virtual assistants can rarely pass as human conversationalists, here are some of the potential business benefits that conversational AI can offer:
Reduced Cost: A recent BI Intelligence report suggests that businesses can cut labour cost by 29 percent when chatbots and other AI are deployed. Though complete automation is not feasible, automating a percentage of customer services and sales positions can result in significant savings.
Improved customer experience: AI reaches a wider audience and stores critical data points that companies can leverage to personalise the offerings and the buying experience of the digitally empowered customers. AI also helps brands optimise their product development with improved customer intelligence, which in turn delivers a delightful customer experience.
Greater consistency due to reduced human assistance: Until the arrival of AI, we had been largely depending on human efforts to produce goods or services of varying quality. This used to be a time-consuming and labor-intensive affair. With AI revolutionising all walks of business and life, consumers aspire to seamlessly interact with multiple apps rather than multiple layers of real human assistants, thereby leading to reduced reliance on human assistance.
Customer Experience is the next competitive battleground. Businesses are adopting new age technologies and are relentlessly reinventing themselves to stay ahead of the race. With advancements in speech recognition and NLP, conversational AI has become the new frontier that is truly transforming customer engagement, making it much more unified and collaborative. However, intelligent assistants are still perceived to be deficient in “social” intelligence, rendering them utilitarian and impersonal.
Nevertheless, the incredible uses and profitable ways in which bots can be used show strong indications that they are here to stay and evolve into more intelligent agents that revolutionise customer experience in more meaningful ways.
The author is EVP and chief sales and marketing officer CSS Corp