Digital communication has become an indispensable part of our daily lives. In 2018 just 15% of customer interactions took place via AI applications, chatbots and mobile messaging. Research company Gartner predicts that percentage to grow to 70% in 2022, and 80% of the companies that participated in an Oracle study indicated that they prefer to use chatbots to answer customer questions online.
Numerous channels cater for chatbots, such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Webchat. Still, it’s important to remember that being present on the channels where your customers are active is the key to successful interactions.
The three categories of digital communication
Live chat enables agents to communicate with customers directly, in real time, on any channel.
Live chat is relatively simple, if labour-intensive and expensive. All you need to do is hire a person or company to handle your online conversations. You’ll be able to deliver a great customer experience because you have a human to personalise your responses. A human-operated chat is especially good at answering more complex questions or responding to dissatisfied customers. However, customer wait times are often longer using this kind of chat, and the cost of using humans for every conversation is often prohibitively high.
AI chatbots interact with customers through written language, often embedded in web pages or other digital applications.
It’s not as easy to start fully automated chats because you need to develop an efficient algorithm. At the same time, the customer experience is never flawless because it’s almost impossible to have the correct answer for every eventuality. One major bonus, however, is that the cost per chat is significantly lower than for human conversation.
Hybrid refers to a combination of technology and humans.
In the hybrid method, relatively simple questions are answered by a chatbot, and more complicated queries can be transferred to a human. This results in lower costs than 100% human-operated chats.
What are the benefits of technology and humans?
We believe that the hybrid method offers the best of both worlds. A chatbot can answer frequently asked questions; these could involve questions about the delivery status, the return of goods, or the availability of a different product size.
If the questions get too complex for the chatbot to answer, for instance, if someone has difficulty purchasing online tickets, the conversation can be transferred to a human.
The hybrid method also works the other way around. Suppose that you’re a customer in an eCommerce environment, and you're engaged in a live chat with a person about a product that doesn’t meet their needs. If both customer and assistant conclude that the product has to be returned, the conversation can be transferred to a chatbot to guide the customer through the returns process. This reduces costs because automating a binary process like product returns frees up the human to move on to the next customer more quickly.
What is the future of chatbots?
Chatbot technology is advancing at a frantic pace. Thanks to AI, chatbots are becoming more and more adept at understanding language and sentiment and are consequently better at assisting people. A bot that can analyse sentiment can interpret the chat user’s mood and tailor the conversation accordingly. If your chatbot can read emotion, there’s also no need to ask the customer how they felt about the conversation.
Another exciting development is conversational commerce, which includes instant payments in the chat. If a customer wants to know if a particular product is available in their desired colour, the chatbot can assist the customer and ask if they would like to pay instantly. If the answer's 'yes', the chatbot can redirect the customer to an integrated payment solution to complete the transaction
Apple is using this technology in Apple Messages for Business. Their customers can make payments with Face ID. Google uses RCS (Rich Communication Services, also called SMS 2.0) and a Google Pay integration.
There’s also been a lot of research on the predictive ability of AI to gain more insight into what people want in a chat. If, for example, someone uses the conversation more than once to ask questions about a specific product, a specific brand of shoe, for instance. If you know that person’s shoe size, you’ll be able to give personal advice and targeted offers for a particular season or use case. It also works the other way around. If a person indicates that they’re not interested in promotions, you can ensure they receive no personalised advice or offers. Personalisation goes hand-in-hand with privacy.
Regardless of how AI develops over the coming years, finding the right balance between humans and technology is crucial. Get the balance right, and you have the perfect marriage of efficiency and customer satisfaction, with all the brand sentiment and advocacy benefits that go along with it.