As a product of the immense artificial intelligence research that has taken off in 2016, chatbots are just one example of what this newly developed technology can do. Chatbots have been quickly creeping their way into our daily business routines – or at least they will be very soon. So far we’ve even seen Cisco and IBM partner up to inject Watson’s brain directly into the Spark collaboration platform. In essence, chatbots powered by AI can be used to simplify our work days by acting as a personal assistant. In fact, we’ve also seen Salesforce bring A.I. to their CRM solutions.

But even Facebook has seen a use for chatbots, allowing businesses to integrate them directly into Facebook Messenger. In fact, Facebook Messenger supports about 30,000 different chatbots, which can even now directly accept payments. Chatbots are also now being used to simplify customer service by acting as a first level of support. While it might not mean the end of contact center agents just yet, chatbots are already making their way into the toolbox of Contact Centers and Customer Service experts, and for good reason.

What Are Chatbots

While A.I. might be on the breaking edge of technology, chatbots are actually fairly old compared to more recent advances. Dating back even as old as 10 years now, some users might remember primitive chatbots in some old school instant messaging platforms, like AOL Instant Messenger’s Smarter Child.

In essence, chatbots are a service generally governed by a set of rules, or more recently artificial intelligence, that users can chat, engage and interact with through an instant messenger or chat platform. However, how your chatbots functions, or what actions it is capable of preforming, comes down to how the developer creates that chatbot, and exactly what set of rules it is governed by.

A New A.I. Era

Artificial Intelligence allows us now to create chatbots that learn, almost much like the human mind would. A.I. would allow chatbots to access any piece of information available on the internet (so, all of it) and respond to complex problems almost in the fashion that a real live agent would. They could also learn your routine and schedule, or in terms of customer service could help clients with recommendations, or answer questions to better understand products. Technical support wouldn’t be too far off either with troubleshooting chatbots. However, while our AI tech is impressive and getting there, we’re not at full-fledged science fiction levels just yet.

Back to Reality

While AI chatbots would be more akin to Iron Man’s Jarvis, the more basic, and simple chatbots are still really good at answer a specific set of questions, or pulling out information from their knowledge base.  Most requests of chatbots would be straight forward, for example you can ask a bot the weather in your location –  “hey chatbot, what’s the weather like in New York City?” The bot could then take that information, and preform a quick query to pull in the answer. Of course, most of us will be familiar with these functions thanks to our smartphones with Siri, or more recently personal assistants at home like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home.

Chatbots and Customer Service

It might not seem like it at first, but chatbots and Customer Service are a match made in heaven. While they won’t be replacing agents any time soon – users do still prefer the personal and human touch, just look at phone support – chatbots can work to assist your agents. Acting as the first line of customer service requests, chatbots can help filter out otherwise basic and generic questions, as well as contextual based requests.

Most online retailers have a Track Your Order function, yet one of the most common questions Customer Service might receive are order status requests. While websites will normally direct users to track the shipment themselves, this could prove difficult for mobile users, or those that just need a quick response on the go – so that’s where chatbots come in. Simply pull up your messenger, ask your chatbots where your order is and it can pull in all the relevant information, like order dates, delivery dates, tracking numbers, and shipping details.

Chatbot’s real strength in customer service would be to filter out the easier to handle requests, that do not require a human interaction, all while escalating the more complex issues to agents. Instead of agents sitting around answering every request –even the ones that can be found in their FAQ – they can deal with the more complex situations in a more efficient manner.

The Benefits Of Utilizing Chatbots

Some of the real benefits that chatbots will bring to the table is all about improving the customer experience. As mentioned above, chatbots are currently great as acting as assistants – whether that be a personal assistant that lives in your phone, or one that lives in your company’s social media platform, Facebook Messenger, or even WhatsApp.

  • More Efficient Customer Service

Efficiency is key when it comes to customer service, especially in the contact center. Minimizing downtime allows agents to assist more users and clients, which means an improved experience all around. Chatbots would be great at improving the efficiency and productivity of your agents. Companies currently attempt to weed out the less crucial support requests by recommending users visit the website for their FAQ or tutorial sections or complete similar tasks – but most of us just want to speak to someone to get the answers right away.

Chatbots acting as the first line of defense will help handle these less crucial, simpler requests with a more personalized touch in the form of a conversation. Meanwhile more complex topics will be redirected towards agents – this ensures agents can handle a larger volume of complex topics instead of being bogged down by simple questions.

  • An Improve Experience for Mobile Users

We recently took a look at Helpshift’s in-app customer service solution, a new idea that will make a dramatic change on how mobile users can receive support and help right in the apps they are using. Helpshift enables users to not only access those online knowledge bases offline on their phones, but even have a conversation with an agent right in the app – this would of course be a great case for chatbots.

Not only that but for companies that do not have apps, or for users that do not use apps, chatbots will come in handy again. They would allow users to utilize the platforms they already do, such as the previously mentioned Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, to instantly receive support on-the-go.

  • A More Personal Experience

Even without a powerful A.I. brain giving life to your chatbots, they can be used to provide a more personalized experience for users. A chatbots that carries a conversation, even if it is a scripted one, will feel much more personal and responsive than simply telling customers to find it out for themselves on your website.

Chatbots can feel like a personal assistant, or personal support agent, to handle those common inquiries, questions and troubleshooting. A.I. of course will empower chatbots to become even more personal, maybe by learning your shopping preferences to make recommendations, or letting you know about promotions or shipping updates even.

  • Adapting to the Customers

At the end of the day, chatbots will offer a huge boost to improving customer experience. With the simplicity to utilize apps and platforms that they already do, customers will enjoy the essentially seamless experience of shopping or troubleshooting with a bot. Since it can also all be done on a mobile platform, as we know the industry is shifting in that direction, customers will enjoy the increased connectivity and availability of support.

Call center software has developed into contact centers software, and grew out of the need to adapt to web chat, email, customer service texting and even social media channels – so the industry is no stranger to opening up new channels all around. Chatbots seem like the next logical step, and offer the added bonus of assisting your agents, and overall bottom line as well.

What It Means for Customer Service

Chatbots offer the next logical step in innovation for customer service, especially if your end goal is to improve the customer experience. By allowing customers to directly interact with a chatbots, they can receive more direct responses to simpler questions, and offer a personalized feel. As A.I. development continues, we’ll see our chatbots assistants grow even more intelligent and powerful, and able to take on even more complex cases.

However, in their current state, Chatbots are far from replacing agents and removing the human contact customer support still very much so needs. Customers do still seek that human approach, and the speed of resolution that can accompany a human approach. Chatbots also do have their limitations:

  • Chatbots are only as intelligent as their set of rules allows them to be, or as smart as their collection of knowledge. Somethings will just completely go over your bot’s head. If it had one.
  • Chatbots lack human emotion, empathy and understanding. While they can pull up information quickly, they cannot express what makes us human. A bunch of preprogrammed responses can get old quick when a customer is frustrated or upset.

In the end, Chatbots will continue to grow and who knows, in the future might replace a good percentage of customer service, or handle the majority of tickets. A.I. could take over and create a customer service representative so resourceful and adaptive, there won’t be any need for a live human on the other end. However, we’re not there just yet. But in the meantime, we can still use chatbots for customer service to vastly improve the entire experience, and improve agent efficiency.