Hey Chatbot, Go FAQ Yourself
I like people. Not individually, well not all of them, but I am quite partial to being human.
Like when you hear the guy who does the time tunnel train quiz for the poor commuters on Southern Rail. Or when the platform supervisor cracks a joke. For a moment, we passengers make eye contact, share a smile. In some tiny way, we are reminded of our shared humanity. And that’s good, because it’s easy to forget what’s real when you’re face down in fake news.
Maybe there’s an algorithm for that. In many ways, we are simple creatures so I’m sure machines will quickly learn how to make us laugh, and feel human. Like how we accept that travel announcements are now half machine, half human. That happened, we dealt with it.
There appears to be an inevitability about our progression towards machines that can talk. Perhaps the mouse and screen were just a momentary blip in history?
Today the hype is all AI and speech recognition. The new interface is arriving, and fast. In this context I hear you ask, should I invest in a chatbot?
Good question. Leaving the big debates about AI aside for now, maybe I can help.
To chat or bot to chat
Let’s start with a problem to solve. People want an easy life. They are overwhelmed with information and choice. Could your chatbot make their lives easier?
It’s a fundamental question. As brands are increasingly differentiated by their customer experience, and budgets are spread thin across multiple channels, it’s worth spending time to figure out the answer.
You need to decide if, on one hand, automated responses can provide a better experience than attempting human contact and, on the other hand, if a chat service is the right interface in to your business.
And there’s the rub. Bots are really proxies for interface design. Through chat, search or browse, on Facebook, your website or app, the interface is there to help users easily access what they want, when they want to.
Forget about the chatbot arms race for a minute and think instead about conversation as an interface between you and your customers. Simples!
You could try using a conversation to entertain or educate, as Channel4 did with Humans, and Unilever did with Little Brush Big Brush. Great experiences and good PR, but it remains to be seen how far they go towards achieving ROI.
Focusing instead on your core brand experience, there is a stronger case for building conversational interfaces when they are designed to improve efficiency, increase CSI, reduce churn and increase sales conversion. Like the bots from KLM and eBay.
By delivering a quality customer service, guiding users through purchases and smoothing out logistics, the boundaries between these bots and the associated branded websites and mobile apps is blurring. And that’s great!
Each touchpoint is an interface in to a similar conversation, and together they create an ongoing relationship between the person and the brand. Mouse, keyboard, touch, gesture, voice, camera. They’re just inputs.
Starting the conversation
Like most things digital, probably the biggest shift here is attitudinal and cultural, rather than technological.
Instead of looking out to chatbots in social media, look inside at your own platforms and services and think about how they can respond to different conversational inputs. How can the interface to your website and app make people’s lives easier?
It may be straightforward to give automated access to your FAQs, but how would that compare to a voice interface for your product catalogue? Or a messenger chat with your delivery tracking system?
Last but no means least, don’t forget to be human. Some people want a chat, not a bot. Being functional, like a transport system, is essential but being human, being emotional can make all the difference.
We want people to have the last laugh, not the machines.
Adrian Gans is Innovation Director at VCCP