The era of bots has truly begun. At its recent F8 developer conference, David Marcus, CEO of Facebook Messenger announced that the company’s platform had grown to 100,000 bots, with 2 billion messages sent between consumers and businesses each month.

Facebook isn’t alone in investing in bot technology. Companies like Sage and Techcrunch have launched their own chatbots to increase customer engagement and make service delivery a more seamless process. Consumers are encountering these technologies more frequently — according to Gartner, by 2018, 30 percent of our interactions with new technologies will be through “conversations” with smart machines.

Seamless Customer Conversations

The application of artificial intelligence to chatbots offers the potential to fundamentally change how businesses interact with their customers. The very phrase ‘customer service’ often invokes negative connotations, reminding consumers of lengthy spells listening to music which will be stuck in your brain for days, followed by even more frustrating phone conversations with indifferent customer service reps who you feel you’re stuck on a continuous groundhog day loop with – how many times do you need to provide your mother’s maiden name already!

The perception of an era of humanless interaction may be daunting for some, especially older generations more used to human involvement. Evidence shows however that digitally native millennials out and out prefer digital interaction, irrespective of the product, service or spend.

Regardless of a preference, there is also clear evidence to suggest customers, prefer to be treated personally and the rise of one-to-one marketing supports this. It’s often a challenge to deliver this at scale but one where bots, if implemented correctly, can help with.

Furthermore, in a world of AI bots, interactions between customer and business can be made completely seamless and can help customers move along their journey. The machine can skip through masses of insight to satisfy requests almost instantly, and have the requisite understanding of interactions across touchpoint to optimise the experience.

For the individual, this can make it easier to find the products and services they need, and to address any issues with minimal stress. They enjoy the efficiency of being able to order a pizza or request a refund on a cab ride the exact moment they want rather than organising around rigid call centre hours. For business, it provides the potential to meet the needs of the customer in the moment which builds trust between your brand and the customer as well as savings to the bottom line which will only grow as their customer insight builds.

As cloud and AI technology progresses, chatbots will continue to become more skilled in data analysis, natural communication, and emotional intelligence through deep conversational technology, increasing their appeal across industries and sectors.

Do We Prefer Robots over Humans?

Over time, we can expect human interaction to be phased out in more automated areas where AI can provide a more efficient service.

Ultimately customers value interactions and conversations that help them reach a successful outcome to their problem or task quickly and effortlessly. If the digital option offers this in the simplest way, it will likely be widely adopted.

However, we aren’t there yet. The nuances of human speech and conversation may never be perfected by an algorithm.

When technology isn’t able to deliver on its promise, for example where a website is down or an app is crashing, customers will seek out the safety of human intervention to direct them towards the information or outcome they desire. Similarly, most issues of any complexity will still be solved by conversations with human assistants – whether via a call centre, or in-store/in-branch.

We shouldn’t be asking how we replace human interaction but more about using smart technology to manage conversations across different human and digital touchpoints, such as website or mobile app activity preceding a call to an agent, to provide customers with a seamless and continuous experience and journey. Even where interaction involves no human interaction, there will multiple digital touchpoints that still need to work together to provide a seamless journey.

Simply put – people demand excellence. It’s the service they crave, not the delivery method.

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