The assistance revolution is here, as chatbots and voice assistants transform business.
Voice assistants are enhancing lifestyles across the world, empowering consumers in ways never possible by engaging with their home environment. More than simply providing information, virtual assistants are prompting action from consumers, tapping into an industry-wide shift in customer preferences: they want easier interactions that produce results.
According to Accenture's digital consumer survey 2018, a third of people online in China, India, the US, Brazil and Mexico plan to buy a standalone voice assistant by the end of the year.
Backing this up from a commercial perspective is the fact that the global chatbot market grew from $113 million in 2015 to $703 million in 2016, and is projected to grow in value to $1.23 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research.
It's essential that companies recognise this shift in how customers want to do business. Since most companies are seeking ways to scale to as great an audience as possible, it makes sense to be prepared for growth in different channels.
The primary sectors making use of chatbots currently are online retail, healthcare, telecommunications, banking and financial services, with consumers saying they treat chatbots like healthcare coaches, travel agents, tutors and advisors. It has been estimated by Frey and Osborne, in an Oxford University study, that within 10 to 20 years, 58% of financial advisors will be replaced by robots and AI.
Already, 96% of businesses believe chatbots are here to stay, and 67% believe chatbots will outperform mobile apps within five years. This has led to 80% of businesses stating they either already have chatbots in operation or they plan to have them by 2020.
Already, 96% of businesses believe chatbots are here to stay.
Jeff Bezos: "The best customer service is if the customer doesn't need to call you, doesn't need to talk to you. It just works."
A natural flow
Despite companies offering a wide range of interaction options within a multi-channel contact centre environment, according to this research, consumers are favouring chatbots: 48% would rather connect via live chat than via any other form of contact.
The marketplace is both getting used to this form of interaction and expecting it to be available; however, the growing use of voice assistants in the home is going to encourage the growth in expectation that companies should be providing voice interaction too. The challenge comes in not just developing the means to do it, but in establishing an authentic brand tone and voice that can reflect a company's strategy while remaining neutral and friendly (and getting results).
These elements also showcase how consumers have changed; from starting out as simple knowledge bases for information, now interactive elements can lead to actions. Customers are more engaged with companies, even in a simple interaction such as browsing for a product.
Brands are already rolling out campaigns that can operate with voice assistants, the voice assistant providing an interactive experience such as guiding the consumer through a product demonstration or taste-testing experience.
Information at your fingertips
Beyond servicing basic customer queries, chatbots can also be integrated with business systems to not only answer generic knowledgebase questions (relating to products or services, for instance) but also provide customers with specific personal information and feedback. For example, customers may engage with a chatbot from a financial institution to find out if they can extend their credit limit by a specific amount. After asking some identity verification questions (such as ID number), a chatbot that is integrated with other business systems can provide this information to the customer immediately, no phone call or branch visit required.
In the contact centre environment, chatbots can also be used to assist employees to resolve queries more efficiently. Agents can dynamically engage with a chatbot during a customer call to get answers, effectively shortening resolution time, and reducing the workload on supervisors.
The reality is this technology is gaining a foothold across the board, with businesses constantly identifying new ways to leverage its benefits. There will always be customers who prefer to interact with a human, but that is not to say chatbots can't work effectively alongside human agents to deliver service excellence in contact centres.
To substantiate this point, research suggests consumers generally prefer interacting with people to solve more complex queries that require human attributes, such as empathy, reasoning or judgment.
Benefits of scale
An example of the cost savings that are achievable by implementing a chatbot would be in the case of the Autodesk Virtual Agent enabled by Watson Communication: in this case study, the chatbot reduced the per-query cost from between $15 and $200 to an average of $1. Since chatbots can function 24/7, this is of great benefit to the company and can also allow greater room for it to scale.
A further consideration relating to time spent on interactions translates to productivity and profitability: according to research, time saved per chatbot interaction compared with a traditional contact centre interaction is four minutes. Translated into cost savings, in the banking and healthcare sectors alone, this is projected to save $8 billion by 2022.
While chatbots are becoming more prevalent across the board in business, and voice assistants are playing more of a role in the day-to-day lives of consumers, there's still time to ensure a company aligns its communication channels with its business strategy and develops the "right voice" to engage its customers.
With over 10 years of operational and strategic experience in the South African contact centre industry, Wynand Smit's understanding of technology and its application to business has benefited multiple organisations across a variety of industries. As CEO of contact centre solutions provider INOVO, he is passionate about using the contact centre as a platform to drive positive change in a business.