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PHOTO: Paula Rey / CC BY SA 2.0

Customers today are used to getting what they want instantly and seamlessly, whether it’s a Lyft ride, an answer from Alexa or Siri, or an Amazon delivery.

For brands to compete and offer the kind of on-demand, self-service customer experience their buyers now expect, AI-powered chatbots have become an important part of the CX mix. Research by Gartner found CIOs identified chatbots as the main AI-based application used in their enterprises.

“Customers increasingly expect fast service yet don’t want to sacrifice experience,” said Katie Tedrow, global product marketing lead for NLP, conversational AI and visual text analytics at SAS. Brands that are able to effectively leverage AI-powered chatbots, she added, have a unique opportunity to provide good CX to their customers.

“Chatbots are already being used for customer service operations by many companies, and we expect that adoption to continue to increase at a rapid pace,” she explained. “Conversational AI and chatbots are the future of customer experience, able to immediately respond to questions or service issues in a way that customers often don’t know they are dealing with a chatbot — or perhaps know but don’t mind.”

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5 Ways to Up Your Customer-Facing Chatbot Game

That said, if you want to transform your business with chatbots and scale your efforts, these are some of the most important ways to take your chatbots to the next level:

  1. Look beyond customer service. As chatbots become more conversational, brands should look beyond bots as merely a customer service or cost-savings channel, said Tedrow. “Chatbots provide a unique, direct relationship with consumers that offers an opportunity for retailers to reinforce their brand,” she said. “As such, chatbots should be considered part of the overall customer experience.”
  2. Use chatbots in tandem with body language. To be successful, chatbots should incorporate digital body language insights that help retailers understand whether a user is engaged and ready to purchase or confused, frustrated and in need of help, said Tim de Paris, CTO at Decibel. “For example, if a customer is bouncing from page to page on a website and showing frantic mouse movements, clearly showing signs of frustration, the chatbot should deploy, and even potentially pass the interaction off to a human agent who might be better positioned to help,” he said.
  3. Leverage DataOps with chatbots. “The amount of data that comes pouring in via chat tech is like a fire hose,” said Chris Bergh, CEO of DataKitchen, who said a new approach to data analytics called DataOps can help leverage this increasingly crucial data channel. “The trick is being able to most effectively extract and analyze the data, as well as marrying those analytics to other marketing data the organization has,” he said. 
  4. Prioritize employee-facing AI-driven chatbots. Most chatbot investment is in customer-facing bots, but employee-facing AI chatbots and smart advisors can save time, boost productivity and improve employee satisfaction, said Ryan Lester, senior director, customer engagement technologies at LogMeIn. “Happy employees equal happy customers, both in the contact center and in the physical store,” he explained.
  5. Make chatbots repeatable. To drive the biggest impact and scale with chatbots in 2020, brands need to make them repeatable, both across channels and in how they are optimized and improved over time, said Lester. “Companies should not have different solutions for social messaging bots vs. website chatbots, for example,” he explained. “In order to scale and continue to improve CX over time, companies need to standardize their chatbot and digital engagement solution.”

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Chatbots: The Evolution Continues

Salesforce research projects a 136% growth in chatbot use over the next year, while 77% of customers say chatbots will transform their expectations of companies in the next five years. Yet plenty of challenges still remain for chatbots to reach their full potential.

Looking ahead, consumers will come to expect chatbots to understand spoken questions, or respond to a typed question via voice. Bots will have to evolve to meet those needs. Ultimately, chatbots will need to become not only more artificially intelligent, but also “emotionally intelligent,” said Chris Bauserman, VP, segment and product marketing at NICE inContact.

“The next generation of AI will be able to read the emotional state of customers, with insights that help customer service adapt accordingly — even taking cross-cultural differences into account,” he said. “The result will be a more holistic understanding of the customer as an individual, allowing brands to build impactful and lasting relationships versus one-off touchpoints,” he said.