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Chatbots? They can do more than just chit-chat

The realm of artificial intelligence, chatbots and virtual assistants is fairly unknown territory to a lot of people. If you mention the word ‘chatbot’ to a group of friends, chances are that unless they’re technologically-minded, they might not have a clear idea of what you’re talking about, if at all. They might think of a virtual assistant, like Siri or Alexa; on the other hand, their only perception of bots may be from reading sensationalist stories in the media that bots are ‘weapons of terror’, set to eventually take over the world.


In truth, neither image is reflective of how a chatbot is used for by thousands of brands and businesses every day. A chatbot is essentially just an industry recognised term for a technological tool that’s being used to aid a variety of businesses in a number of purposes, from customer service to internal HR.


Who’s using them?


Luxury brands have dabbled in their use of chatbots - but with varying commitment. Many brands use AI and chatbots for the launches of collections; think back to Burberry’s launch of its ‘chatbot’ at New York Fashion Week in 2016. The launch of the bot received great praise from fashionistas around the globe, as the bot allowed them to go backstage at the fashion with the option to ask the bot if they had any questions. Another major fashion brand to experiment temporarily with bots is Tommy Hilfiger, who also introduced it during New York Fashion Week in September 2016 to announce its partnership with supermodel Gigi Hadid. The main purpose of the bot was to drive traffic to the website.


However, the vast majority of these luxury brands that have experimented with bots have decided not to maintain them as an integrated part of their ongoing customer service. Instead, these brands are opting for ‘live chat’ for customer service, which is an instant messaging setting - but with a real life person. Why is it that luxury brands are hesitant to adopt chatbots for their customer service? Is it as a result of their unreliable reputation, inconsistent representations in the media and the potential impact the wrong technology could have on their brand with their key audiences?


Chatbot technology can allow your business to run in a considerably more financially efficient way. Consider the human resource required to respond to customers shopping on the website of an international brand. At its best, a chatbot can be available 24 hours-a-day to quickly and effectively solve a customer’s query, dramatically reducing the strain on human resources required to satisfy the customer’s need. We all know that customer ‘satisfaction’ is the absolute minimum standard expected and arguably today’s standard for luxury companies is ‘customer delight’. So anything companies can do align with that, will mean customers will come back for more. Considering that by 2020, it’s projected that 85 per cent of all customer service interactions will be powered by machines, it’s incredibly important that businesses get it right - and the luxury sector is of course no exception to this. In fact, it’s perhaps more important the luxury sector gets it right - to help protect and enhance brand reputation.
Developing the answer-driven bot


The mysticism and confusion around chatbot technology means that, too often, businesses that are looking to deploy solutions, typically end up focusing on the wrong thing: trying to make their chatbots good at ‘chatting’. Perhaps chatbots are doomed by their very name: while conversational flow is obviously still important to the customer experience, prioritising this often means that brands forget that they’re trying to fulfill a business function - not answer a specific question on something like “where is my package?“. Developing a chatbot can require a lot of resource and time, so when preparing to launch, it’s crucial that brands focus their energy on preparing how to avoid the worst case scenario answer: “Sorry, I don’t know how to help you with that.”
Let’s go back to the example of automated customer service. A study by Ubisend earlier this year revealed that when communicating with chatbots, 68 per cent of consumers said that reaching the desired outcome is the most important facet of their interaction. Another study by Business Insider Intelligence revealed that 48 per cent of consumers would rather a chatbot solve their issue versus a chatbot having a personality and structuring a conversation properly, without actually getting an answer. This proves that while having a chatbot that uses high-quality, natural language is nice, consumers ultimately just want to get an answer to their question.


So, how can companies implement chatbot technology that is answer-driven?

Traditionally, chatbots have relied on scripted chat, which is essentially a predefined response to a predefined user question. Typically, the issue with a scripted approach is that it limits not only the data the technology can pull to get the customer’s answer, but also if a question doesn’t fit the script, the customer gets the dreaded “I don’t understand” or “did you mean” response. Too often, the result is repeated miscommunication and customer frustration rather than an accurate, helpful and rapid response.

Unscripted


An unscripted chatbot means the AI is able to respond better when a response sits outside of the narrow scripts. With less limitations, and the ability to pull information from the businesses’ available data, unscripted chatbots are far more likely to understand the subject matter and therefore the context of the question and provide a helpful answer.


Chatbots? They can do more than just chit-chat


Rather than humans having to manually input all the questions and answers they can think of, to service every possible communication, automated training dramatically improves an AI’s capabilities. By plugging into an API that automatically and continuously trains the technology, brands also avoid the issue of question variants - as hundreds of variants of a single question can be programmed for in minutes. The same task would take a human, several hundred hours , so businesses are saving money, as well as increasing the likelihood of the customer getting the answer they need, first time.


The use of suggestions


In the case that the AI has low confidence in answering a question, offering multiple options from a broad set of knowledge is another opportunity to help the customer along the way to their answer. This is a less frustrating alternative to defaulting to “I don’t know” when the chatbot is unsure, as many have been programmed that it’s better to give no answer at all compared to giving the wrong answer. According to Ubisend, almost 70 per cent of chatbot interactions are based around simple service enquiries - such as finding out about opening times, or asking for more information about a product - meaning the broad knowledge will help the end user. The result is that the chatbot will have much higher engagement and better results.
Chatbot use and sophistication is definitely a lot further along than some media outlets might suggest, but there’s still a long way to go. While in an ideal world, a business would use chatbot technology that can be left alone to accurately answer customer queries, the reality is that luxury brands seem a little unconvinced that chatbots have the capacity to provide their customers with a seamless customer experience. In reality, businesses should treat the technology like any other solution, and design them to achieve their business purpose. By ensuring that a chatbot is focused on the viable means of actually getting the consumer their answer - rather than perfecting its ‘chatty’ functionality - brands will be far better equipped to have their customers coming back for more.

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