We need to chat about chatbots

In short, what is next for chatbots? That depends on how quickly we can solve the issues that are holding them back…

May 17, 2019
We need to chat about chatbots

In the not-too-distant past, chatbot developers sold their solutions as a way for clients to differentiate themselves from their competitors. When everyone else was still heavily reliant on email, self-service forms and telephone support, a personalized chatbot was something to behold, and a great self-help solution for forward-thinking brands.

But what happens when the disruptors are disrupted? In record time, chatbots have gone from ‘new’ to ‘mainstream’.

There were 300,000 Facebook Messenger chatbots operating as of September 2018, according to Hootsuite. Just 12 months beforehand, Inc estimated there were only a tenth that number.

At the same time, the corner of the market chatbots own is under competition from other forms of conversational AI, like voice assistants and live chat.

It’s this exponential growth (and arguably saturation) that has left chatbot developers thinking about what’s next. How do we develop products that are different from the competition? How do we improve the user experience, and fast, so that our products remain a critical step ahead in a competitive market? What can I do to be different when it all starts to look the same?

In short, what is next for chatbots? That depends on how quickly we can solve the issues that are holding them back…

What’s holding chatbots back?

How to make a chatbot better? Give it a face.

The 2018 State of Chatbots Report shows the biggest barrier to customers using chatbots is that many prefer to “deal with a real-life assistant”. A huge 43% of respondents say this stopped them from interacting with chatbots.

But, with companies facing increasing pressure around cost to serve, is limitless human interaction still a realistic preference for customers to have? Today, self-help has solved for many of the more repetitive and simple tasks that leave customer services teams hamstrung for time. At the same time, customer experience expectations continue to rise. It’s at the intersection of these two (competing) demands where there’s opportunity to innovate.  

The sweet spot? Businesses are looking into customer service options that combine the best of emotional connection (humans) and digital scale (chatbots). Enter digital humans.

While they may not be “real-life assistants”, digital humans embody the brands they work with, putting ‘digital skin’ on and holding conversations in the same ways humans would. They ‘humanize’ chatbots as a technology layer that augments natural language processing (NLP) with a more personalized, emotional connection. UneeQ’s Intelligent digital human platform makes this easy and affordable—offering chatbot developers SDKs and APIs to transform their offering.  

But let’s delve deeper to explain the true value in these “real-life human interactions”. In essence, it all comes back to customer experience.

Why customer experience matters

When they can’t or don’t want to compete on price, businesses compete on customer experience. Customers today are won or lost on the battlegrounds of customer experience, and they’re used to being delighted by those businesses that do customer experience brilliantly. The businesses chatbot providers sell to know this.

Studies show the top two metrics C-suite executives keep an eye on most are overall revenue and the net promoter score customers have given them based on the experiences they’ve had with the business.

Meanwhile, almost nine in 10 businesses that improve customer experience report an increase in revenue.

Meaning great customer experiences address the two issues the C-suite care most about. CX today is a big deal!

So are chatbots delivering better customer experience?

In short, no. Only 38% of the older generation (baby boomers) say chatbots offer a “good” customer experience, according to the 2018 State of Chatbots Report.

Even among typically tech-savvy millennials, less than half (45%) rate the experience as “good”.

Good shouldn’t be a high benchmark to clear for such an important metric as customer experience.

One part of that sub-par experience could be that only 29% of baby boomers and 33% of millennials say chatbots are friendly and approachable—two terms you would relate to great, human-like interactions, though which aren’t currently being met by chatbots.

How to improve a chatbot? Make it friendly and approachable with digital humans integration.

To quote the ICMI (International Customer Management Institute): “When millennials interact with brands, they want to feel that the interaction is authentic, meaningful and responsive.”

Chatbots alone are struggling with the last two. UneeQ’s Digital humans deliver exceptional performance in this area, according to our user testing.

How to improve a chatbot? Make it a digital human with UneeQ's AI chatbot digital human platform.

Next-generation chatbots

This is where you’d usually hear that digital humans are the future of chatbot technology, and developers need to get ready for it. But, the truth is, if you have NLP in place, digital humans are available right now as a way to supercharge your chatbot platform, create more meaningful interactions and differentiate chatbots as a product and a service.

And they’re needed today. The 2018 State of Chatbots Report shows the most apparent benefit of chatbots among users is that they “answer simple questions quickly”.

But when it comes to embodying your brand, answering questions with friendliness, approachability and emotional connection – chatbots need to evolve beyond text and become true intelligent interfaces.

I perhaps can’t word it better than this line taken from 10 years of Deloitte research into the most impactful technology trends:

“Unlike many technology trends that present new ways to streamline processes or engage customers, the intelligent interfaces trend offers something much more personal: an opportunity to fundamentally reimagine the way we, as humans, interact with technology, information, and our surroundings. To say this trend is potentially disruptive would be an understatement – simply put, it represents the next great technology transformation. And this transformation is already underway. If you are not exploring the role that voice, computer vision, and a growing array of other interfaces will play in your company’s future, you are already late to the game.”

I’m open and excited to talk with chatbot developers who agree so we can start building the present of exceptional chatbot interfaces—not just the future.