If someone traveled in time from 1956 to visit us today, they would be convinced the world had contracted a virulent form of contagious schizophrenia. Everyone is talking to objects rather than people. Today we talk with our cars, hand held devices, and even appliances. What would send our 1950s fedora festooned time traveler over the edge? When they talk back.
Bots are everywhere. My wife and I have taken to having our in-home Amazon Echo bot named Alexa play white noise to help us sleep at night (our “dog” snores). Oftentimes, Alexa doesn’t quite get it right…
“Alexa, play rain sounds”
“Playing Reign in Blood by Slayer”
Nevertheless, the robots are clearly here to stay and will grow in prominence. In a research study conducted by Oracle of 800 Marketing and Sales Executives across the globe, 80% said that they are already using them or plan to do so by 2020. The application of “chatbots”, or partially autonomous dialoging assistants sits clearly in the crosshairs of customer service, but also has application in sales and marketing as well as other routine tasks.
Notwithstanding their foibles, chatbots can be used to great effect to create a great customer experience. For example, I recently had to have my windshield replaced due to an errant roadway rock and so submitted a claim with Farmers Insurance. It was painless. I called the 800 number and got a bot lady. The bot lady texted me a web link and walked me through the claim all on my mobile phone while I was eating lunch, including scheduling a replacement appointment. It took 5 minutes. The next day I got a text notification that the technician was on his way a few minutes before the scheduled time. He came to my house, replaced my windshield, and it was all done painlessly in 20 minutes. In my opinion it was actually much better than dealing with a human.
“Alexa, play rain sounds”
“Playing songs by Lil’ Wayne”
AI to the Rescue
Chatbots of yore used to be rule based: that is, it would look for words and phrases and then have pre-programmed responses. Many reservation and IVR systems still function this way. If you have ever got caught in one those phone mazes of customer support, you know they can be very frustrating.
However, nowadays bots are getting much more sophisticated via artificial intelligence. IBM Watsontends to be one of the first choices in building chatbots, followed bywit.ai and Microsoft according to a study by Mindbowser. Cleverbot is another famous AI chatbot that you can go out and talk with right now. Created by Rollo Carpenter, Cleverbot is constantly learning with more than 4 million interactions per second. The engine behind Cleverbot and an API for accessing it is available for developers via Cleverbot.io.
“Alexa, play rain sounds”
“Playing Ring of Fire by Jonny Cash”
Not only are chatbots becoming much smarter, they are also can be customized. Imagine Mickey Mouse calling to confirm your stay at Disney World or Tom Boddet following up about your stay at a Motel 6. The folks at Boomsourcing.com use something called Perfect Pitch Technology to customize the outbound or inbound voice to your brand’s needs in a chatbot context. Some of these chatbots are so sophisticated they are hard to discern from real people. Eventually, I expect we will able to configure personality traits; a snippy French chatbot for an exclusive restaurant, a goofy friendly chatbot for an amusement park, a deeply empathetic and reassuring chatbot for insurance claims…you get the idea.
“Alexa, play rain sounds”
“Playing It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls”
Reduce Need for Surveys
Increasingly those in the Customer Feedback Management (CFM) space are starting to look very closely and adopting chatbots to help supplement or even replace email, phone, or for the old school…mail as a way to get feedback. Startup AtlasRTX has been active in the homebuilders’ community where they are not only using real time dialoging to collect customer sentiment, but they are blurring the lines between marketing and retention. Starting early on in the customer journey, they interact with customers from interest to purchase to post-purchase.
It’s not research, it’s not marketing; it is engagement…with the bonus of providing useful and actionable data for marketing, sales, and insights groups.
Software provider Wizu provides a SaaS solution in using chatbots to collect customer feedback. It has a fairly simple self-serve interface and pricing model to customize and deploy your very own chatbot quickly. CFM pugilist iSky, who focuses on the automotive vertical, developed something called “ Valet” which is integrated with their text analytics engine to create real time two-way dialog with customers. Finally, if you have the time and energy you too can build a rudimentary chatbot from scratch. It takes about $1 and 10 minutes to do so.
“Alexa play rain sounds”
“Playing November Rain by Gun and Roses”
Alas, chatbots aren’t perfect. As any one screaming into Siri or attempting to get Alexa to play simple “rain sounds” can attest. Microsoft’s AI chatbot “Tay” began spewing anti-Semitic and sexist tweets in less than 24 hours after it launched to which Microsoft released a terse and brief apology and promptly unplugged Tay.
Nonetheless, with millennial preference for SMS, Snapchat and other social media messaging device coupled by decreasing attention spans, it is clear “dialoging” will supplant the “survey” in capturing customer feedback. Additionally, customers are increasingly expecting to get something in return for their time.
Combating Shiny Object Syndrome
While the bot revolution is exciting, I think we need to take measures to guard against an epidemic of SOS (Shiny Object Syndrome). We need to make sure we thoughtfully integrate these new bot technologies into an overall customer experience. For example, Alexa is great in the normal quiet home. Voice recognition systems via phone can be quiet irritating when you are in a crowded and noisy restaurant or airport. Think about the context of use when selecting preferred modalities for communication.
Finally, technology should be used to improve efficiency and create a better experience; but only if it can do both. Abuse of chatbot technology in the spirit of “cost savings” will just make your customers angry. Using expensive technology installations when a person, website, or some other form of simplified communication will do is preferred. Apply Occam’s razor to your CX problems. Simpler is always better.
If you are considering using bots in your organization their strike zone appears to be in routine high volume work where some degree of problem solving is required. Tier 1 inbound call handling is prime candidate as is using bots for a replacement for the old fashion post-call “robot lady” IVR. I am also intrigued at the possibility of its use in outbound close loop systems and gathering basic VOC feedback as part of a help system. If it can be done right, it has the potential to further reduce data collection costs, improve quality, and help customers.
“Alexa play ocean sounds”
“Playing ocean sounds, by ocean sounds”
With the advances in text analytics and AI, collecting customer feedback in the form of a dialog while helping customers only makes sense. We are going to see a lot more robots helping us in our day-to-day. I think we are also going to see email as a methodology give way to messaging in the same way that email supplanted phone (and phone supplanted mail). It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen and faster than you might think. In the interim, my wife and I have switch to listening to “ocean sounds” which Alexa apparently finds much more understandable and less disruptive than the accidental death metal tune before bedtime.