In the introduction to this topic we touched on the landscape and role for chatbots in customer experience. However, to imagine the future of chatbots we should also consider how they will evolve in the future, their weaknesses and the developments taking place today.
Chatbots are mostly utilised as gatekeepers. They provide solutions to simple problems and ferry customers with complex difficulties to a human for a solution. However, some companies have been more ambitious in their chatbot utilisation.
For these companies, who are pioneering the future of chatbot use, two main areas of development have arisen: (1) creating omnichannel experiences, and (2) improving emotional intelligence. These two developments are pushing chatbots to expand their utility and capabilities in addition to giving an indication for how chatbots could become a corner stone in CX.
Chatbots are very flexible in how customers can access them. Chatbots can be intuitive – you do not need to learn how to interact with new technology – and in most cases you can just begin typing. They can be incorporated into other apps, webpages and technologies, circumventing the need to download yet another app. This flexibility is part of their success, but there are further steps that can and are being taken to make their use even more convenient.
Chatbots are currently used almost in isolation. Even as gatekeepers they are typically integrated with only a small part of customer service. Once you have passed through that short journey, the interaction is documented for potential use in future interactions.
But does the chatbot know that you’ve been given a solution? Or whether that solution has been successful or not?
For rudimentary chatbots, the answer is no. The information from the customer service team would not be relayed back and the chatbot is not linked to the whole customer journey. These chatbots cannot know that you have interacted with the customer service team and have or have not found a solution. If this was possible, it would not only be able to reach a future solution faster, it could even tailor a solution specifically based on what has worked (and, more importantly, not worked) for you in the past. This would be the first step to integrating chatbots into the wider CX journey.
If a brand could utilise an omnichannel experience with a chatbot that was linked to a database of interactions it would mean that the chatbot would integrate and streamline its interactions with other, possibly physical interactions with the brand.
One chatbot moving towards an omnichannel experience is the ‘My Starbucks® barista’ chatbot. Amazon Alexa and the Starbucks’ mobile app can both be used to access this chatbot which allows orders to be taken via voice or text messages. The chatbot mimics giving the order to a barista by asking the same questions and making sure your order is correct. Once an order is confirmed through the app it is sent to a nearby store, giving you a collection time and address.
Although this seems relatively simple, Starbucks have created a chatbot that simplifies the shopping experience. They have merged the technological customer journey with their in-store customer journey to eliminate waiting in lines, waiting for orders and collecting orders. The two journeys have been streamlined into a single journey, minimising disruption in a morning commute. Additionally, the chatbot can be used to re-order previous orders and even check loyalty points.
As chatbots improve and database infrastructure becomes more integrated, everyday tasks like buying coffee on the way to work, checking bank account balances or paying bills will become simpler and simpler.
Although communication seems to be straying away from voice calls and more towards messaging, we still continue to communicate emotionally. We can now send photos, images, videos, voice recordings and text almost immediately, making it easier than ever to convey emotion in a multitude of ways.
In our previous posts we’ve discussed the importance of emotional intelligence in customer service. Customer service and customer experience is heavily driven by emotions. When a business communicates with customers, how the communication is made is just as important as the message itself. Companies like Starling and First Direct proudly state that when contacting them you will always talk to a real person because of this. A real person can gauge issues faster than a chatbot and give an emotional touch that they cannot.
Chatbot developers recognise this and are always trying to improve how realistic the experience of talking to a chatbot is. Emotional intelligence is high on the agenda for developments and many solutions are already on the horizon.
Chatbots are getting smarter. Machine learning and AI technology are allowing chatbots to learn how we communicate. There are already Chatbots like Boehringer Ingelheim’s Tabitha that are breaking down the barriers of emotional intelligence. Tabitha was created to persuade asthma sufferers to self-identify their symptoms and guide them to receiving medical support. The chatbot walked the tight rope between an incredibly emotional topic and an incredibly technical topic to eventually learn how to recognise emotions and what the expression of emotions means. Tabatha has gone on to be nominated for awards in social media strategy excellence. Despite not being used in a customer journey, this is proof that chatbots can be used in a more emotional way.
However, creating smarter chatbots through just textual messages is the tip of the iceberg. Tools like Empath and Microsoft’s cognitive services are already being integrated into chatbots. Empath is an AI which can identify emotion from voice patterns. It analyses multiple properties of a voice to detect four emotions: joy, calm, anger and sorrow, regardless of language.
Microsoft’s Emotion API can also detect and understand a number of emotions including anger, happiness, sadness and surprise, across cultures. However, instead of doing this through vocal patterns, the API instead does this visually, by tracking facial expressions to gauge emotions.
Chatbots that can gauge emotions can be more astute in their response. The detection of various emotions can prompt a change in language used. The detection of anger could prompt a swifter journey to connect you with a human member of staff. This huge change would mean that chatbots could become even more efficient in their role and utilise service agent’s time more effectively.
What does this mean for chatbots?
Chatbots are currently a hotbed for innovation and development and are continually progressing towards a more human like experience.
Simplification of the customer journey and making things as easy as possible are two very important aspects of CX. Chatbots have been successful as they have already played a role in simplifying certain touchpoints of the customer journey. But there is still room for improvement.
Human interaction will unlikely be replaced fully by technology in the near future. However, by making the customer journey easy and simple, chatbots will come to play a greater role in the future of CX. They will also strengthen human interactions which will only help further propel their relevance in the customer journey and drive future investment.