robot holding pencil
PHOTO: Matthew Hurst

Meet your new co-worker who never gets sick, never takes vacations and will never quit: a chatbot.

Chatbots are here to stay in the digital workplace and companies that wish to remain competitive in the future will ultimately use them. So what changes should we expect when chatbots become our co-workers?

Chatbots present a wide variety of potential benefits for companies, employees and buyers. For one, chatbots provide cost savings and superior scale by automating tasks previously performed by humans and enabling companies to serve larger market segments. Employees benefit from chatbots because the technology relieves them of the need to handle mind-numbing, repetitive work that saps productivity. People will work smarter, better, faster and more efficiently with the help of their digital co-workers. Chatbots will free them to focus their energy on work that requires thought, creativity and ingenuity.

Ultimately, the efficiencies chatbot technology can offer companies and employees will translate to a consistent, personalized and expert experience for customers.

But as with any disruptive technology, chatbots come with some potential pitfalls. As chatbots enter the workforce, people are finding that the skills they need and the requirements of their jobs are changing rapidly. And predictions of chatbots taking jobs from people, while at times overblown, are potentially true in some cases. In workplaces transformed by bot technology, people who want to differentiate themselves from their digital co-workers must learn and hone new skills, specifically “soft” skills that focus on emotion, creativity and reasoning.

Whether you are pro- or anti-bot, they are here to stay and further change is the only thing we can be sure of. Here are the top eight changes that chatbots will bring to the digital workplace.

1. Outsourced Tasks Are Ripe for Transformation

Tasks that are currently outsourced and/or offshored represent ground zero for chatbots.

To understand the changes chatbots are bringing to the workplace, it is important to see that the changes all emanate from shifts in how tasks are allocated. These evolutionary shifts take place over time and can be summarized with the following three T’s:

  • Traditional: In the beginning, tasks are performed by high-value human labor.
  • Transactional: As a process matures, it becomes more documented and repeatable, allowing it to be outsourced, and possibly moved offshore, resulting in lower costs.
  • Transformational: Eventually the process is defined for the digital world so it can be automated by software.

All tasks are subject to this evolution. Physical workers and their tasks were subject to the shifts toward offshore manufacturing and then robotics automation. Now knowledge workers are in the midst of a similar shift — the tasks they handle are moving from the transactional stage to the transformational stage.

Chatbots with artificial intelligence (AI) remove the two competitive advantages of outsourcing companies: scale of available workers and lowered costs.

Here are two major areas of outsourcing/offshoring that will forever change because of intelligent systems:

  • Call centers: Chatbots will eliminate wait times and provide in-depth expertise. Unlike people, who can touch only a limited number of calls per day, chatbots can scale on demand to handle any level of call volume. Better yet, chatbots work 24/7 and never quit, get sick or take vacations.
  • Business process outsourcing: Business process outsourcing (BPO) using inexpensive offshore labor for low-end repetitive tasks will be replaced with automated bots. This is especially true for customer service tasks and many customer-facing functions.

Summary: Intelligent chatbots are here, offering superior cost savings and superior scale. Companies that continue to rely on outdated outsourcing models will do so at their peril.

Related Article: Workplace Chatbots: Too Little, Too Soon?

2. Chatbots Are Just as Likely to Be ‘Hired’ by Workers as by Companies

My prediction is chatbots will not just be part of company-led initiatives but will also be enlisted in employee initiatives. Now more than ever, employees want to have a say in the technologies and tools they use at work. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way they choose their own communication tools and in the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) technology policies in place at many companies today.

Human knowledge workers are eager to be smarter, better and faster. They will push to use the automated tools of their choice, just as they pushed to use the personal computers, smartphones, tablets and social media channels of their choice.

Here are some examples of cases where employees will likely “hire” their own bots:

  • Sales: If sales reps realize that they could double their sales by using chatbots to take over mundane tasks like qualification and administration, you can bet that they will embrace chatbots faster than the company might have planned.
  • Scheduling meetings: Chatbots will be scheduling your meetings and managing your calendar.
  • Planning travel: Many chatbots already are available on travel sites for booking flights and hotels.

Summary: Overworked employees anxious to offload mundane, time-intensive work will want to choose and customize their own automated tools to take over certain tasks.

3. Chatbots Will Become the Marketing Platform

Chatbots will close the knowledge gap between brands and buyers in ways that have not been possible before. It’s time for chief marketing officers to rethink how chatbots can influence a buyer’s journey. This is evident in the following applications of chatbots:

  • Replacing email in marketing campaigns: According to MailChimp email marketing benchmarks, email campaigns net maximum open rates of about 28 percent and click-through rates of 5 percent (rates vary by industry). In contrast, chatbots get open rates of better than 80 percent and click-through rates of over 40 to 50 percent. It won’t be long before chatbots will become the standard way to reach buyers
  • Weaponizing case studies and white papers: In the 2016 Content Preferences Survey Report on B2B Buyers by Demand Gen Report, 73 percent of the respondents indicated that they have less time to research and read than they did just 12 months earlier. Vendor case studies are great, but buyers have to do a lot of work to go through the mental gymnastics of translating the return on investment (ROI) metrics of a case study to their specific circumstances. With a chatbot, instead of clicking to read a report, you can click to talk and have a consultative conversation with a bot that personalizes the ROI analysis for you and sends it to you instantly.
  • Feedback surveys: With dramatically lower bounce rates, chatbots are ideal for marketing surveys.

Summary: Marketing professionals will be remaking their digital assets as online interactive digital advisers in chatbot form. Case studies, white papers, spreadsheet calculators and surveys should all be converted to interactive chatbots, allowing brands to influence buying decisions in ways never previously possible.

Related Article: The Rise of the Digital Workplace Chatbot

4. Chatbots Will Become the First Point of Contact in Sales

According to a 2016 study from AYTM Market Research, 89 percent of users prefer information discovery through bots to information discovery via websites. By equipping landing pages with chatbots, companies can instantly capture leads from potential customers. In a single step, the buyer can be qualified and seamlessly transferred to a sales rep.

Summary: Chatbots are ideal for lead generation and nurturing. Chatbots can handle the collection of basic and qualifying information from buyers, so sales reps don’t have to. Buyers will embrace this trend because it makes their buying experience richer, faster and easier

5. Chatbots Will Move From Back-End Customer Service to Front-End Customer Experience

Chatbots will turn ecommerce sites upside down. No longer will users struggle with clunky catalogs on the web. As chatbots advise shoppers and provide recommendations, they will become the primary customer experience mode. On classic ecommerce websites, buyers can select products but they get little or no advice. In contrast, chatbots advise consumers and help identify suitable products, thus giving buyers the confidence that the product recommendation is optimal for their needs.

Summary: Chatbots leveraging powerful recommendation engines will be the key advisers to buyers on the web.

Related Article: Accelerate Workplace Transformation: From Chatbots to Intelligent Agents

6. Chatbots Will Move From B2C to B2B

Gartner predicts that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationships with enterprises without human interaction. And one could think that the only market where this is a possibility is in B2C, where Amazon has shown the power of self-service and its ability to improve customer satisfaction. Many believe that a “humanless” experience is not a possibility in B2B sales because of the complexity of the products and systems being sold, and because of the tremendous rate of change in the market. However, there are several aspects of B2B commerce that may make it even better suited to the use of intelligent digital agents on the front lines of the customer relationship.

B2B is different from B2C because companies sell solutions incorporating many products that must interoperate according to technical specifications. In turn, each system must ultimately solve a business problem and deliver ROI. In contrast, in B2C you are typically selling a single point product. B2C sales are often conducted using a simple catalog, whereas B2B sales have traditionally been conducted with human experts providing advice on building solutions. The problem is that the traditional manual B2B sales model does not scale for the seller and it is not the experience that is preferred by the buyer.

Summary: Chatbots can bridge the knowledge gaps that have typically been closed with human manual effort and deliver agility to customers in the B2B buying experience.

Related Article: 6 Success Factors for Workplace Chatbots

7. Chatbots Will Become Very Personalized

Instead of one generic bot for your company, think of dedicated bots tailored for each and every customer/buyer. This is possible because intelligent systems know the following pieces of information about buyers:

  • Their language.
  • The products they are allowed to purchase.
  • Their entire buying histories and preferences.

Summary: Chatbots make customer relationships sticky. With chatbots, the customer experience only gets better because the more a buyer interacts with your team of chatbots, the more the chatbots learn and the better their service becomes.

Related Article: The Intelligent Workplace Couldn't Come at a Better Time

8. Get Ready for ‘Bot 2 Bot’

As automated tools become more common throughout businesses of all kinds, the structure of companies will change. We may no longer have hierarchical organizations whose ability to restructure and respond to change is slowed by the need to hire, fire and retrain human workers, because chatbots can dynamically organize themselves around the customer without delay or additional expense.

Summary: As the number of chatbots explodes, these new virtual workers will need to speak to each other as well as their human co-workers.

Now You Really Can Be in Many Places at Once

Chatbots enable your workforce to be in many places at once. The ability to deploy fleets of digital chatbots provides companies with knowledge workers as a service and knowledge workers at scale. Now companies can deliver a consistent, expert and personalized customer experience across channels. Human workers will be relieved of repetitive manual tasks, but they will need to have advanced emotional, creative and cognitive skills to participate in this new digital workplace.