Bots are about to get better at customer support than humans

In 2018, AI-enabled bots will provide a better customer experience than human-to-human chat exchange, following the explosion of messaging services that have changed the way companies interact with their customers. Today, more than two billion messages are exchanged between people and companies every month on Facebook Messenger alone. Other major players have been investing heavily in the space, creating platforms to support companies in their pursuits to engage customers where they are and in the way they prefer. In 2018, this will give rise to AI customer-service agents that we are happy to deal with.

However, many organisations will fail to create the customer experience they desire because of a fundamental misunderstanding of human-to-machine interaction. In their belief that human agents give the best experience, many will develop messaging applications that stress person-to-person conversations. But companies will learn that using AI-powered bots, supported by human “escape hatches”, which seamlessly pass on the interaction to a human, will provide a vastly better experience than a standalone human-to-human exchange.

This feels counterintuitive. But consider this. Human-to-human chat exchanges are limited to text inputs. Moreover, they are often open-ended conversations, creating a less guided experience for the user. Bots, on the other hand, can respond immediately, and combine prompt buttons and other visual cues along with supporting textual conversations to offer a much richer, guided user interaction. More importantly, AI can scale and apply its knowledge much faster and more consistently than a human as its algorithms improve and it learns. Human agents, on the other hand, need to be trained, respond inconsistently and need to be motivated to care about the customer.

As customers interact with a company, bots can capture data to learn behaviours, habits and preferences – and then anticipate needs. These interactions then improve the entire user base’s customer experience. To try to capture and apply this same data is hard when it is free flowing, non-guided text, and nearly impossible when it is human-to-human chat.

By harnessing this machine-learning ability, businesses using bots can acquire customer-experience advantage faster than competitors doing human-only chat. The new frontier is not without its challenges. Businesses will have to put in work upfront to make the most of their AI systems. Companies will need to create clear routes through conversational maps, understand the outcomes customers are trying to drive and prime the system with smart defaults.

Many algorithms already surpass or match the average person in some areas of human language and comprehension. This is the main reason these AI systems won’t feel like the infuriating phone menus of the past.

But we wouldn’t recommend turning everything over to a bot. Instead, offer an escape hatch when the bot can’t be of help. It’s the adroit combination of people and machine that offers the best prospect for creating competitive advantage.


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