by Tamsin Dollin
Technology is rapidly changing how companies of all types and sizes conduct business. This is true in the realm of customer service and support. Using artificial intelligence (AI) in the right ways can provide businesses with a range of benefits. One of the technologies that have helped to reshape the customer service experience is the AI chatbot. Before we get into the benefits of using an AI chatbot, let’s first get a better understanding of what this technology is and how it works.
What is an AI chatbot?
Unlike basic chatbots that are typically rule-based, AI chatbots rely on natural language understanding, natural language processing, and natural language generation to understand and respond to the humans they are interacting with. AI chatbots use machine learning, a capability of AI that makes bots smarter with time and use.
While the influx of chatbots may seem relatively recent, the first chatbot was created back in the 1960s by an MIT professor named Joseph Weizenbaum. This was a remarkable achievement for the time. The computer program, dubbed ELIZA, could emulate a psychotherapist. ELIZA could even pass the Turing Test, which is used to test the intelligent behavior of a machine.
While ELIZA was impressive, technology has come even further since then. In the intervening years, the capabilities have grown substantially. Today, a conversational AI chatbot can easily engage with people on a level that feels personal and even empathetic – like talking to a helpful assistant. Chatbots and voice bots (for IVR systems) can answer questions and help people to solve their needs. This makes AI chatbots a natural fit for customer service.
Chatbots communicate with people using instant messaging online and can be integrated into a range of applications and websites. There are two format types for chatbots—simple and smart.
Simple chatbots respond to questions based on a selection of integrated answers that have already been established. A smart chatbot uses machine learning when talking with users. Therefore, chatbots can build a database of answers.
How prevalent are AI chatbots?
Chatbot usage in the customer service sector is projected to increase by 31.7% in the next five years. It’s estimated that over 80% of businesses will have a chatbot available on their sites. If you hope to keep up with the competition, you’ll want to look into utilizing an AI application for your business.
According to the 2020 CX Transformation Benchmark, Business Wave, more than 70% of businesses agree chatbots make it easier for the customer to get their issues resolved, with 40% indicating they will invest in customer-facing AI for self-service in the future.
(Pro tip: CXone simplifies deployment of conversational AI in the contact center with an integrated hub to ‘bring-your-own’ bots, like Google Dialogflow.)
Top benefits of using AI chatbots
Below, we’ll look at some of the biggest benefits of integrating an AI chatbot into your business. Not only will you be able to keep up with the competition, but you can provide a substantial amount of value to your customers. Consider how much these benefits could help your company now and into the future.
Benefit #1: Improve lead generation
Because of the way AI chatbots work, learn, and gather information, they have amazing lead-generating potential. Chatbots can qualify leads by asking relevant questions, then directing the prospect to the sales team or an appointment scheduler. This helps reduce the amount of work the sales team has to do when trying to find qualified leads. It makes the lead generation process much faster, not to mention more lucrative. Way fewer cold calls!
While lead generation might not be the first thing that you think of when it comes to using AI chatbots for customer service, it can be a nice benefit. The more the AI application learns about your customers, the more knowledge you’ll have. It’s a powerful tool that can make everything from marketing to sales much easier.
Benefit #2: Faster resolution
Customers want answers to their questions, but they don’t want to wait on hold for a long time to get those answers. In a typical setup where the customer has to wait to chat with a live person online or on the phone, it might take ten minutes or more before the customer gets help.
Many customers become frustrated during that waiting period. When they come into the conversation already upset because of the wait, it may make it more difficult to build a strong relationship with them once you do start to interact. This is nothing new, of course. It’s no different from waiting on hold on the phone for someone to provide help. Now, they’re sitting in front of their computer waiting, but the annoyance remains the same.
When you have integrated a quality AI chatbot into your website, there’s virtually no wait time. The customer can start asking questions of the AI immediately and receive the answers they need quickly. This is a much more efficient method of providing customer service. Of course, if the problem is complex and goes beyond that which the AI bot can answer, customers can always be routed to a live customer service representative. (Tip: Just be sure to always forward details to the agent, so the customer never starts over.)
Along the same lines, you’ll find that the answers provided by AI chatbots are consistent. When a customer asks the same question on two different occasions, the answers from the bots are the same. This may not always be true if they talk to two different live representatives. Quite possibly, they might get two different answers—and this is confusing for any customer! Which of the reps should be believed? Has this ever happened to you?
But with chatbots, there is no danger of this, since the answers are always consistent (and correct). (Pro tip: No matter how smart it is, don’t expect your chatbot will be able to handle every situation. Always design the automated experience so that customers can seamlessly transition to a live agent when they request or need it.)
Benefit #3: Around-the-clock support
You never know when your customers (and prospective new ones) will be browsing on your website or when they might have a question. In today’s world—where people expect instant access to everything—they don’t want to wait until business hours to get the help they need. Fortunately, AI chatbots are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Whether it’s conversational voice (for IVR) or chat on text-based channels (like SMS, email, and web), bots are always on and ready to serve. This availability has a positive effect on how consumers view your service. Exceptional service with convenience goes a long way! If people are happy with the service you provide, it’s more likely that they will continue doing business with you in the future. However, if you don’t make it easy to get answers and people can’t get the help they need when they need it, then they’ll be more likely to move on to one of your competitors who’s more available. It’s a competitive world with lots of options. These days, consumers are less likely to give businesses as many chances as they may have in the past.
Benefit #4: Reduce customer service costs
The cost of hiring enough customer service representatives to take care of all of your customers’ needs can get expensive. Combined, businesses spend more than a trillion dollars each year to service the hundreds of billions of customer requests they face.
While you still must have some live customer service representatives, you’ll find that when you use an AI chatbot, you can save a substantial amount of money annually. This is because the chatbot can handle many service requests without sending them to a live representative. This allows you to better optimize your customer service costs because you don’t need as many human agents.
Consider how much it would cost to bring on more customer service agents to your company. You need to consider the costs of not just the salary, but also the training and infrastructure costs. If someone quits, you have to hire a new agent and go through the training again, adding to the costs further. Chatbots are a much more affordable solution. If there are issues that the bot can’t handle, it can then send those problems to an agent to solve.
In many cases, it’s possible to scale the use of chatbots during peak times. For example, if certain times of the day or year are busier, you could scale up the usage of the bots. This helps to ensure a lower cost, and as mentioned earlier, it means your customers won’t have to wait to get the help they need.
Benefit #5: Boost customer engagement
All companies want to keep their customers engaged, and AI chatbots are well-suited to help with this. Although it might not be one of the first benefits that you think about, AI has the potential to help boost customer engagement. However, you need to have your AI application set up properly.
Customers look for personalization. Many chatbots analyze customer responses and provide data instantly. They engage with the customer by using their name during the conversation. This helps put customers more at ease and makes them more willing to continue the conversation. Chatbots also provide real-time responses, so customers get the information they’re looking for quickly.
Most people don’t mind communicating with a company as long as the company makes communication easy and handles it on the consumers’ terms. This is where AI chatbots shine.
Benefit #6: Free up live agents
Since you will still have live customer service agents, you’ll be happy to note that the bots can help save those agents quite a bit of time. Using AI technology frees up your agents’ time for issues that require a human touch – those that can’t be answered by a machine. Agents can now focus on providing true customer service rather than handling the low-level tasks that the bots handle.
How does the AI chatbot free up your live agents? Consider many of the problems and questions that your customers have. Often, they are repetitive issues that have been answered thousands of times before. Having a chatbot that can provide those answers quickly will satisfy the customer, so they don’t feel the need to talk with a live agent. The bot reduces the overall amount of work that needs to be handled by people in the company.
The chatbots help keep the average resolution time low, as well, since they can answer questions in real-time. They can handle most of the FAQs that used to be answered by live agents.
Benefit #7: Reduce human error
No matter how great your customer service agents might be, there’s always the chance that they could provide an incorrect answer to your customers. They might have misunderstood the question asked by the customer, or they might have provided inaccurate information by mistake. Whatever the reason, human errors exist.
This is something you won’t have to worry about with AI chatbots. They are programmed with the correct answers and provide those answers to customers based on their queries. AI chatbots are continuously learning too. They can deal with complex questions and parse them to provide customers with the information they’re seeking. As long as the information supplied to the chatbot is correct, it will make it to the customer.
Accuracy helps to improve the perception of your customer service team and your company, in general. Consider the damage you’d face if you have multiple instances of agents providing incorrect information to clients and prospects. It would quickly reduce the level of trust these consumers have in your business and could ultimately affect the bottom line.
Benefit #8: Give customers what they want
Certain customers might not like the idea of talking with a live person, whether it’s on the phone or through chat. Although it might only be a small percentage of customers that feel this way, for some, talking with AI is easier and less stressful. Some people are introverts and would rather not talk to a live person. Or perhaps they’ve had an unpleasant experience with customer service representatives from other companies in the past and prefer not to deal with a live person. These consumers are prime candidates for chatbots. They’re more likely to use this “soft” contact method to get the information they need rather than connecting to a representative.
Other reasons that consumers may prefer chatbots include not feeling as rushed during the conversation, not worrying as much about how they’re saying something, and not feeling as if the service representative is judging them. Chatbots take the emotion out of the conversation, and for some, that’s the type of interaction they appreciate. Of course, nearly all customers like the ease of chatting with an AI bot and the fact that they can get the answers they need when it’s convenient for them.
Benefit #9: Always getting smarter
Not only do AI chatbots rely on natural language processing to interact conversationally, they smarter with use. Through machine learning, these chatbots begin to understand more about intent -- what customers are asking for and all the different ways they ask the same question.
Chatbots collect and track how customers respond to the answers they provide, as well. All of this helps them to get better at understanding human interactions. They can learn new languages and the nuances of phrasing the same thing in multiple ways. Bots have an infallible memory since they rely on data to determine what does and doesn’t work in their interactions. As each year passes, AI chatbots get better and better at their job.
Benefit #10: Endless patience
Customer service reps work hard and do their jobs to the best of their ability. But they are only human. If hold times are long, then agents in the contact center may be dealing with a steady stream of frustrated customers who’ve been left waiting. Hostility does no favors for your business.
Fortunately, AI chatbots have endless patience. AI doesn’t have emotions. There’s never the risk of running into a moody chatbot. And of course, contact center agents benefit from AI self-service too, as they’re more than willing to let the bots take on the boring, repetitive tasks with self-service that doesn’t ever leave customers waiting.
Effortless Service = Happier Customers
More and more customer service teams are using artificial intelligence in their processes and workflows, and it’s valuable technology that you’ll want to integrate sooner rather than later. According to the 2020 CX Benchmark, 40% of businesses say they will invest in customer-facing AI for self-service (chatbots, voice bots, etc.). The benefits of using an AI chatbot are significant. While this post focused mostly on customer service applications, chatbots can also be leveraged for sales, marketing, and other types of customer and prospect engagement.
If you’re looking to improve customer self-service results, chatbots may be a wise AI investment. Consumers are getting used to bots and, when designed right, bots can provide effective self-service 24/7. Additionally, AI bots can be used to gather customer and issue information at the front end of agent interactions, which can significantly decrease handle times.
AI bots are becoming widely adopted among call centers - our research shows 40% plan to invest in bots in the coming year. (Pro tip: Before rolling out a mega chatbot, start by designing a pilot and pre-determining how it will scale. Start small by identifying a specific task you want the bot to do. Determine how and when you’re ready to scale it. Before unleashing it to the world, consider testing internally with your best experts – your agents!)
Artificial Intelligence for customer-facing channels has significantly increased in 2020. A full 66% of businesses report using at least one AI channel (up from 50% in 2019). Considering that, business leaders who embrace AI as an investment today will surely be in a better position to realize the meaningful value to their business in the years to come.
Every brand strives to differentiate—and your AI chatbot requirements and identity will be unique too. There are many system integrators out there. Ensure that the company you choose to partner with can provide a high-quality AI chatbot application that’s easy to integrate and train. (Pro tip: Even an intelligent chatbot requires smart development built with the customer in mind.
Although more than 70% of businesses agree that chatbots and virtual agents make it easier for customers, 90% of businesses believe chatbots and virtual agents need to get smarter before consumers are willing to use them regularly. A poorly designed chatbot isn’t an asset, it’s a liability.)
Smarter self-service accelerates resolution
Did you know 84% of consumers are more willing to do business with companies that offer self-service, but only 61% say companies offer easy, convenient self-service? If you are ready for more, our latest guide offers expert insights for how your contact center can effectively implement smarter self-service capabilities and resolve customer issues quicker, including:
The benefits of creating a self-service strategy
How to seamlessly blend self-service and agent-assisted options
Tips for nailing the transition between self-service and agent-assisted