Ready to order a Chat Bot?

So your business has been offered a chat bot; or perhaps your competitor is using one. The excitement behind these chat bots– they are supposedly powered by AI. A talking Artificially Intelligent agent seems futuristic and perception has been driven by the many Sci Fi films we have watched over the years.

Marketing a chat bot? ask the customer to name the Bot and invite them to think of the bot as part of their team and as an intelligent agent, an R2D2 of sorts.

Such intelligent agents are truly tempting. We hope they become advanced helpers, superheros and save many a day for our business.

Now let’s get real. Welcome to the chat bot boom.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Chat bots aren’t actually new. They have existed for a very long time. ELIZA1Eliza, the Rogerian Therapist (http://psych.fullerton.edu/mbirnbaum/psych101/Eliza.htm) created in 1960s2Alan Turing at 100 (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/09/alan-turing-at-100/) followed a language rule set and mimicked a therapist convincingly. Today popular incentive to invest in chat bots is that they allow your company to claim they have invested in AI, because today chat bots are powered by AI. If that is what you want to splash across your marketing pages then go for it.

Just bear in mind that a chat bot uses AI algorithms to understand the intent behind what humans say to it. The chat bot uses AI for its own purposes and has no means of leveraging this “intelligence” for solving your problems.

  • It cannot use these algorithms to solve your business problems.
  • It cannot use these algorithms to show you insights from your customers.
  • It cannot use these algorithms to drive your business. You will still need smart people to do that.

The AI component within chat bots is simply limited to understanding human speech or typed text or published documents. Everything else the chat bot does has to be programmed in.

We have a new member everyone, welcome The Bot

Often companies are sold on the idea that by buying a chat bot they are investing in a “new member” of their team. But chat bots are not as versatile as a humans. They are more like robots that do what they are programmed to do and operate within the limits of their training and programming rule set. They are good for automation, not innovation. So if there is a business process that you want to automate, a chat bot can help you with that, and so can a mobile app or a webform or a dedicated process management tool. If the process you want to automate is unwieldy and complex, the chat bot won’t simplify it. Even if the bot does it for ten years, it won’t be able to suggest creative ways of simplifying your process. Named the bot Kevin or Kirsty; that won’t help either.

You will need to keep paying to keep the chat bot training up-to-date though. Consider what would happen if you spent that chat bot training budget on a human in your team instead?3Does Your Company Really Need a Chatbot?(https://hbr.org/2019/05/does-your-company-really-need-a-chatbot)

Numbers don’t lie

After we deployed a chat bot the calls to our customer services dropped by (impressive number here) %

A COMPANY

Good for you. Did they drop because the chat bot was handing those calls effectively or because your customers got frustrated and took their business elsewhere?

Chat bots are often deployed in customer facing scenarios. Again the chat bot won’t necessarily help you understand your customers better. Your customers will change their behaviour when interacting with a chat bot. They will try and work around its limitations and say things they would not say to a human. A chat bot will simply add an additional layer between you and your customers.

Your customers have the choice of voting with their feet and to stop talking to you and your bot. In order to make a friendly and truly helpful chat bot, you would have to understand your customers very well before you embark on building that bot.

Do I need a chat bot?

It depends.

The answer can be found if you ask yourself whether your business is looking for a chat bot or a patch-bot.

A patch-bot is an attempt to fix the symptom of an underlying problem– like a badly designed service or poor customer service training, or confusing process, by throwing a technology (chat bot) at it.

And it won’t help, please fix the cause.

So, do you need a chat bot?

  • You have already optimised your products, service or process design so that customers can find information easily. You understand your customers well and know how a chat bot would help enhance their experience420 Years of Product Management in 25 Minutes by Dave Wascha (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i69U0lvi89c&feature=youtu.be&t=537).
  • Your customer interaction does not need much emotion, judgement or empathy when dealing with customers and its okay to sometimes get it wrong.
  • Your customers normally interact with you when things are going right and only occasionally when things are going wrong.
  • You work in an industry where your customers would prefer to interact with a robotic agent then a human? (e.g. Sensitive topics like mental-health)
  • Your chat bot product will offer a new way to engage and thrill your customers.

Answer yes to any of these questions and a chat bot could indeed help.

What about things like Alexa?

If you reason about it, Alexa and similar voice assistants satisfy many of the above criteria and are therefore a good chat bot product. Let me take you through the above points, focussing on Amazon’s Alexa bot.

  • Amazon’s Alexa is an additional product offered by Amazon, on top of their already well-built and popular website. Amazon spend a lot of time trying to understand their customers. Alexa is built on top of successful products and technologies, not as a patch for a botched underlying product.
  • Alexa for most part carries out actions based on commands of the format “Alexa do this“. As long as the command issued is clear enough and within its trained capabilities, Alexa attempts to do it. Alexa cannot hold a deep meaningful conversation and does not attempt to. Alexa is not trying to solve a complex problem for Amazon or its users and does not need problem solving skills. Alexa occasionally gets it wrong but is not a critical component of the customers interaction with Amazon. Customers can try again or use a different technology to get desired results without feeling “let down”.
  • Customers interact with Alexa as part of their normal day. Not just to report problems with Amazon’s services or seek help with services they are using.
  • There are occasions where interaction with Alexa is preferred, like in the kitchen or in the car where the user prefers to speak to interact rather than touch a display.
  • Alexa and the associated skill-store offer a completely new suite of products to Amazon’s customers like listening to news, guided training, stories, games and more.

Photo Credit: Photo by Rock’n Roll Monkey on Unsplash

References   [ + ]

1. Eliza, the Rogerian Therapist (http://psych.fullerton.edu/mbirnbaum/psych101/Eliza.htm)
2. Alan Turing at 100 (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/09/alan-turing-at-100/)
3. Does Your Company Really Need a Chatbot?(https://hbr.org/2019/05/does-your-company-really-need-a-chatbot)
4. 20 Years of Product Management in 25 Minutes by Dave Wascha (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i69U0lvi89c&feature=youtu.be&t=537)