Exploring the role of bots in customer services

ACN's Alexander Pieri discusses the rise of bots in customer services

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Exploring the role of bots in customer services Alexander Sophoclis Pieri, editor of ACN.
By  Alexander Sophoclis Pieri Published  July 23, 2017

I imagine working in a client-facing role or in customer services requires a certain tenacity to be truly successful in the role. Along with an extremely high level of patience, of course.

Since the first sale of the stone wheel, which was certainly followed by the first customer complaint and evoking of the business' return policy, consumer engagement is a discipline that has long been a critical part of any commercial venture.

That has certainly been the case for the last century. Every organisation, whether they are small and medium-sized businesses, or well-established global conglomerates, has in varying degrees committed resources towards training staff to better engage their clientele.

In the digital era however, the rise of e-commerce and the increasing number of online and mobile shoppers, has turned this long-standing business practice on its head.

Instead of investing in the development of their staff, a number of enterprises have begun to explore how IT can positively impact the customer experience, particularly around the use of bots. Already present on select websites, service portals and apps, bots are often the first representatives of brand to engage the customers.

While certainly not a new idea within the realm of IT - the first iteration of such applications date back to the mid-90s - the bots of today have grown in both sophistication and scope.

Last month, it was reported by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority that its AI-powered chatbot had received over 270,000 enquiries since its launch in the first half of 2017.

Another big news announcement came from travel technology provider Sabre, which revealed that it adopted Microsoft's intelligent language services to create an AI chatbot.

There are also now bot-making platforms that assist both organisations and individuals in designing and deploy their own customised bot.

So does this mean that any business (including your own) can just dive in and adopt a bot? Not exactly. What may surprise many is that despite being available in the market for over two decades, one of the main obstacles in bot development lies with language.

One can easily find a program that is able to hold a basic conversation in English, but rarely do you find users that communicate in the proper form. As result, databases need to be constructed that house large libraries containing different dialects and even informal speech. Throw in a requirement for second language support and the headaches double.

Having extensive databases on their own isn't a complete solution either, for as the times change so does the complexity of the language. Thus what is needed is an artificial intelligence, whose level of proficiency grows as the language does.

Another thing to consider is the consumer mindset. While I have no doubt that online shoppers are more than happy to deal with a sales chatbox, as long as it's knowledgeable on the product or service, I'm also sure that when that product arrives broken or when the service fails, users will want to talk to a person. Venting at a bot is simply not the same as dealing with a customer support representative.

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