According to Zipwhip’s 2019 State of Texting report, 74 percent of people would rather talk to a real person than a chatbot. But we know that there will always be certain instances where an automated experience is preferable over a slower one that’s dependent on a human. The key is to integrate humans into automation, creating a seamless transition between the two without degradation of service. Humans + automation = an optimal customer experience.

What is a chatbot?

Chatbots are computer systems designed to replicate human interactions through automation and artificial intelligence. From virtual personal assistants to Alexa, chatbots have been around for years. However, the advances in AI sophistication have been continuously transforming the industry. Chatbots lead digital transformation in 2019 and beyond, so it’s crucial for businesses to understand how to use them effectively.

How are companies using chatbots now?

Companies mostly use chatbots for simple, repetitive tasks and questions. This helps assure the speed of customer service and data integrity.

Andrew Ng, chief scientist at Baidu, said in Harvard Business Review, “If a typical person can do a mental task with less than one second of thought, we can probably automate it using AI either now or in the near future.”

Some companies are thinking outside of the box with chatbots as well to create interesting and fun customer engagement experiences. A great example of this was Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice chatbot, which literally brought the famous drink to life.

Here are the key ways companies use chatbots today:

  1. Gathering information
  2. Real-time FAQs
  3. Simple tasks such as account set up
  4. Notifications and alerts
  5. Customer engagement

Will robots replace humans in business communication?

The simple answer: No, chatbots will never replace humans when it comes to communication. The two will always need to work in tandem. Unfortunately, not all companies have a deep understanding of how these two components of the customer experience must work together.

“By 2020, over 50 percent of medium to large enterprises will have deployed product chatbots,” said to Van Baker, research vice president at Gartner.

While this prediction speaks to the rise in chatbot usage, many of these companies won’t set up their programs correctly and will risk providing a frustrating experience to their customers. They’ll focus on completely removing humans from the equation. But there are some things humans will always be more adept at doing such as upselling, showing empathy and solving complex issues.

Consumers already have a fear of algorithm mistakes and a misconception that automated experiences are lower quality than person-to-person interaction. It’s important to prove these consumers wrong by showing the value of an experience that uses both humans and chatbots.

How should companies use chatbots and humans together?

  • Always provide the option to speak to a human. At every point in a user’s engagement with a chatbot, they should be reminded they can always reach a real person. On top of that, it should be easy for them to do this. They shouldn’t have to open a new support ticket or call a different number. They should be able to conduct all communication within the channel the chatbot exists. This is why building a chatbot within your business-texting software would be ideal and tools like RCS will pave the way to blending these two communication modes well.
  • Provide a seamless transition between chatbot and human. Just as you’ve carefully crafted the chatbot’s programmed messages to sound conversational, the handoff should be the same. However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid introductions. Give your chatbot freedom to respond “Let me fetch a representative for you” instead of trying to pretend the human is the chatbot after a brief waiting period. As consumers become more AI-literate, it’s important to be transparent about when you’re speaking with a human versus a robot.
  • Create an escape hatch. There will inevitably come a time where the conversation verges into un-programmed territory. It’s important to build “escape hatches” for the bot to essentially call in backup. If the chatbot doesn’t know how to respond, they should be programmed to hand off to a real person.
  • Build a multiple-choice architecture rather than fill in the blank. Save time by having your support team compile all of the questions a customer might ask someone along with all of the possible answers and next steps. Program these into your chatbot so that it can prompt the person with pre-filled answers. Multiple choice allows you to control the quality of the data entered, and customers will be able to move through sequences faster when they don’t have to type each answer out.
  • Be realistic and set expectations. If your chatbot is calling a human for support, let the user on the other end know approximately how long they’ll be waiting. Being realistic and up front about the limitations of your system will result in fewer disgruntled customers.
  • Integrate automation into your existing tools. Don’t invest in an entirely new channel to host your chatbot experience. Build it onto your website or inside of your business-texting platform. Nearly 61 percent of people don’t want to download yet another app, so don’t force them to do this in order to benefit from your automation tools. Create an experience where your customers already spend their time and communicate with you.
  • Understand when a human is better than a chatbot. Chatbots are preferred in some cases, and humans are preferred in other cases. A good rule of thumb is that if it’s a simple, repetitive question or task, a chatbot will provide a better customer experience. If it’s a complex issue that requires a level of empathy or sophisticated troubleshooting, a human will be better equipped to provide the best experience. It’s important to understand and acknowledge that chatbots are not a one-size-fits-all solution.

“In the personalized support experience, humans are not optional—in fact, they are crucial.” – Zendesk

Allowing chatbots and AI to improve efficiencies frees your support team to focus more energy and time on high-value, complex issues. AI increases productivity, automates tedious processes and improves data integrity. And when support volume decreases, customer experience increases. But ultimately, AI and chatbots will never replace real human beings. There will always be instances where the customer experience demands something deeper. Talking to a real person will never go out of style.

Interested in learning more about the State of Texting in 2019 and beyond? Download our research report today.

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