A chatbot is a computer program that simulates a human conversation. This can vary from that automatically pointed technical support to Siri and OK Google to Joaquin Phoenix’s “love interest” in the film Her. Backed by artificial intelligence, the evolution of the chatbot is making our messaging apps smarter and dang good sales reps.
Last April, Facebook opened application programming interface (API) access to Messenger so developers could build chatbots for checking weather, booking Uber and collaborating over and then ordering presents, among 30,000 others. It wasn’t the smoothest launch, so much that four months later Gartner marked it as too soon because the public felt immediately overwhelmed by the influx of chatbots and this new style of communication. But on the other hand, 61 percent of that same public showed a demand for chatbot tech.
The area where chatbots are immediately paying off is in customer support.
There’s no doubt that having to contact customer service is a dreaded and frustrating experience — it almost always means there’s something broken or that we don’t understand something. But what if we could change the environment of that call? What if, instead of picking up the phone, we can deal with it all in the must more friendly atmosphere of Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp?
Would it feel more like talking to a friend? Would the frustration disappear if we don’t have to wait for a response?
Why chatbots benefit business
This is simple. Chatbot customer support means that you can provide faster customer service at a fraction of the cost. You cut down on the labor cost of first-level support by providing a smart chatbot that, like a really clever FAQ, answers the most asked questions, pointing folks in the right direction.
Customer support is one of the most resource-intensive departments and it’s one of the hardest to equate that expense with real ROI. McKinsey estimates 29 percent of customer support positions can be automated by chatbots. Gartner has this number jump to 85 percent of customer support being replaced by chatbots in just three years’ time.
The enterprise space is set to beat out B2C as the first to adopt chatbots, as a way to automate the answers to repeat questions. In business software, a lot of money is spent responding to the same questions — Do you integrate with this? What is your pricing and usage limits? Platforms are fast to integrate with chatbots to offer fast, quality responses without the manpower.
“We’re helping companies onboard and scale their support of API developers by using chatbots,” said Hitch Cofounder Like Miller. “Our chatbots are trained across support and reference documentation, questions asked, and changes that have taken place.”
This way, like many enterprise software companies, Hitch is able to help customize responses based on the specific API offering.
Of course it remains to be seen how many users will still just demand “call me” immediately.
But will us humans accept chatbots?
And it still remains to be seen how we will respond to this service. In the U.S. we often complain that our customer support is filled with non-native English speakers, which we claim adds to the stress of these calls. Similarly, a few years ago, Telefonica decided to repatriate several Movistar customer service call centers from Latin America to the Canary Islands in Spain “in an attempt to stem the loss of users unhappy with the service they offer this group of telecommunications.”
How will we as humans feel if we aren’t even talking to humans anymore?
In the end, some will love the ability to avoid having to call, while others will still crave the human connection. And with another generation that witnesses the mainstreaming of chatbots and whatever else is to come up in the world of AI, it may not matter anyway. This is certainly the direction we’re heading.