Chatbots Can Save Companies Money, But Won't Replace Human Help

By: Rich Baker

Love it or loathe it, chatbots are coming to the contact center.

So, what’s a chatbot? Think of Apple’s Siri™ or Amazon’s Alexa™, but with a text interface (instead of voice) that responds to your written queries with its own text, images, buttons, and links that you can click. 

Chatbots are just one example of an ongoing artificial intelligence (AI) revolution. According to Bloomberg, AI-driven systems are projected to add $15.7 trillion (yes, trillion) to the global economy by 2030. So, if your company lacks an AI strategy, now is the time to start that conversation.

But as chatbots and the AI technology behind them steadily improve, will they eventually replace real, live, customer representatives? In short, not a chance.

Low-touch vs. High-touch: It’s all about trust

Let’s start with one of the biggest strengths of chatbots: They can be great at quickly locating and presenting good responses to transactional customer questions. Today’s businesses should consider how to deploy them to handle these “low-touch” interactions. That means questions like, “Do you have that shirt in red and a medium?”

By routing simple queries to chatbots, companies can tirelessly service a flood of customer interactions at a low cost, 24/7, adding up to significant savings. In fact, a recent study from Juniper Research predicts chatbots could save businesses more than $8 billion annually by 2022.

But when it comes to delivering a “high-touch” experience, chatbots are no match to people. Emotionally-charged interactions that pose hard-to-answer questions or complex scenarios need to be handled by a flesh-and-blood customer service representative. A skilled employee can sense the customer’s mood, diffuse emotion, and steer the conversation in a productive direction. Only a human can build the trust needed to deliver your company’s brand promise in a way a chatbot cannot.

For example, consider the health-insurance industry. The typical annual enrollment process is filled with enough arcane terminology and endless plan options to give anyone a headache. An insurance company that values the experience of its customers will recognize most of these complex interactions demand attention from empathetic human beings.

In the travel and hospitality industry, if your flight just got cancelled, a well-designed bot could present – nearly instantaneously -- a blend of flight or hotel layover alternatives attuned to your mileage status and lodging preferences, and do this much more quickly and effectively (“click on your choice”) than a human agent, who traditionally would recite to you the various options, one at a time. Bots can also trump humans when unexpected call volume overwhelms staffing levels. (Bots can scale instantly to address an unanticipated service interruption.)


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