Bots no longer a nice to have, but a necessity
Shopping for furniture online? Looking for a flight? Hungry for pizza? Need medical advice? Lost? Just listen for the "pop or bing" as your virtual assistant enters on screen with a very friendly "how can I help you?/ask me anything" approach.
"Call them chatbots, bots or virtual assistants, it's a technology that's literally popping up everywhere.
Whereas once it was an aspiration for a brand, your own bot has today become a necessity," says Ebrahim Dinat, COO at South African customer experience solutions provider, Ocular Technologies. "And this necessity is driven by today's customer, who is growing very fond of virtual assistants. In fact, whereas customers are shunning voice calls to agents, a recent study by our software partner, Aspect, has found that there is a growth in voice calls to bots."
He adds that another highlight of having a bot is that a virtual assistant shows a return in investment and is helping with the bottom line. "It's rands well spent," states Dinat.
He points out that in today's digital environment, the contact centre's role as a competitive differentiator in a business is largely dependent on its ability to listen to consumer trends and adapt to consumer behaviour.
"How a contact centre is managed and operated is fully determined by the customer, not the business," says Dinat. "For this reason, management constantly needs to not only be aware of, but also heed the latest customer trends, including the newest technologies, because these are critical to meet the ever changing and growing demands from customers."
He explains that today's customer is no longer the "obtain three quotes and go with the most cost-effective" type. Today's customer looks at "the whole package first. That is, the end-to-end experience."
This is why Dinat stresses a chatbot is an essential "employee" of today's business. "Your chatbot holds an important function in the business and should be seen as such."
As Daniel Faggella, an e-mail marketing and marketing automation expert and head of TechEmergence, recently told MarTech: "As businesses continue to find ways of cutting costs and improving customer engagement, chatbots have become a leverage point among large companies such as WhatsApp and Facebook. These conversational agents, using text or voice commands to answer queries or guide consumers with their purchases, serve as alternative solutions to customer service representatives."
"Essentially," continues Dinat, "the entire customer experience is of greater value than the product and, if the experience you deliver is superior, customers will in fact pay even more for your product than that of a competitor. At the same time, a customer will stop doing business with you if the experience is bad. It is as cutthroat and simple as that: experience trumps cost. And a chatbot can enrich the customer experience immensely."
So much so that Gartner research predicts that in two years' time, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human.
Dinat explains the continuous rise in popularity of the chatbot is also due to the technology being behavioural based. "This is important, especially when developing your bot, as it needs to satisfy the behaviour (social, interactive, communication and more) found mostly in the millennial generation, which has a strong attraction to chatbots."
Why? Well, one answer, as laid out by Andrew Arnold, contributor to Forbes magazine, "is that chatbots mesh perfectly with millennials' expectations and the ways in which they are used to interacting with the world around them".
Chatbots, says Arnold, bring the following: instant gratification; a chance to engage with emerging technology; convenience and connection; and conversational engagement.
Dinat adds: "Build a bot right, and you'll have created a millennial's best friend for life."
The immediate and swift evolution of AI, machine learning, deep learning and the virtual assistant or bot is an exciting picture to watch.
"Perhaps the chatbot is customer services' 'big bang theory'," deliberates Dinat. "Business must realise that a reason for the bot's acceptance in the human space is that these virtual assistants also make life a lot more convenient. Whereas in the past, only execs had assistants to run diaries, reminders, make bookings and more, today a bot offers every single person with a smart device this kind of service and more, at not cost.
"This powerful bot technology is a must in order to reap the greater business benefits. The friendship between bot and consumer can certainly extend into a firm relationship between your brand or product and the consumer. Your virtual assistant is a competitive differentiator to provide that winning formula where loyalty outwits cost, and the purchasing decision, even at a premium, is brought to completion."