The digital transformation in customer service – the chatbot
“All our operators are busy at the moment. Please try again later.” We’re all familiar with recordings like this. And they’re unlikely to improve our mood. Because in most case we’ve got an urgent problem and need help immediately. We become despondent as we hang on the line and we begin to dream of the possibilities of the digital transformation.
There are now plenty of businesses – including online retailers, banks and airlines – who have discovered for themselves the capacities of a new member of staff born out of the digital transformation – the chatbot. Thanks to maturing artificial intelligence technology, in place of stilted dialogs involving “if you want to x, please press 0, if … please press 1, if … “, there is now an alternative that can deal with at least the more basic choices.
People like “personal” contact
We can be fairly sure that a conversation is always going to be more attractive than scrolling down endless web pages, FAQ lists or browsing through hard-copy manuals. All that typical support materials that our ancestors had to grapple with. Personally, before having to wrestle with a 150-page handbook, I’ll always try to sort it out by having a personal chat with someone. It would be great, of course, if my conversation partner had some idea of the problem I’m struggling with, and utterly marvelous if he or she knew how to resolve it.
Things like ordering pizzas, choosing flights and making appointments for trial runs can already be more or less sorted out by a chatbot. Tasks like that can fairly easily be broken down into a simple decision tree. But desktop service providers who run (often very busy) helplines also need to ask themselves the question as to whether chatbots might be a solution for resolving routine problems directly? Thus freeing up human workers for other tasks.
It makes sense anyway to expect that routine human tasks are sooner or later going to end up being eliminated by automation. If we can make this automation more “human” or, to put it the other way round, design it so that it’s easier for the customer to use, we’ll be fulfilling the demands that the digital transformation has set for us. On top of this, we’ll also be making service bottlenecks a thing of the past. The chatbot is perfectly capable of multitasking! He can conduct many more than one help search at the same time without any risk of losing track of what it’s doing.
Chatbots at the service desk
In our own case, for example, the issues resolved by the help desk focus mainly on things like password resets or unlocking encrypted disks. A chatbot can deal with things like that just fine. That leaves time for human workers to deal with more complex problems, ones that require more empathy and a better understanding of the user’s situation. I’m quite sure that chatbots will never be able to replace human contact entirely, but they are certain to play a role in providing desktop services. And they won’t need to pass the Turing test to do so.
It’s important to remember, though, not to be offensive to any machine-learning chatbots you come across on your telephone adventures. There’s a danger they’ll get the impression that the way you speak is normal in everyday communication. So keep the tone friendly. Otherwise, your conversation partner will learn to talk trash.