The Future of Customer Service Bots: 7 Trends Changing the Way You’ll Think About Chatbots

man interacting on laptop with a customer service bot

Can you tell the difference between customer service bots and real humans?

Alright, today you probably can. But that might not be the case next year. More importantly, do you care? Forty percent of consumers say they don’t care if they talk to a customer service chatbot or chat with a live person, as long as they get their question answered, according to Invesp.

The popularity of chatbots and virtual agents for customer service is on the rise, and that’s despite negativity surrounding them due to their current limitations. That’s because customers want fast responses to their questions, they want answers 24/7, and they want help culling through loads of webpages or product data to immediately find an answer. Chatbots offer an instant solution on all accounts.

Consider this: Experts at Invesp and IBM estimate that up to 85% of customer interactions will be powered by chatbots by 2020. That means you’ll have more conversations with bots than you do with live customer service agents.

An even more interesting finding is that consumers want and expect the same things from communication with brands as they do from their friends and family. That means they want personal, one-to-one conversations that make them feel valued and heard. Think a bot can’t live up to that expectation? Actually, that future isn’t as far away as you think.

Here are seven trends you need to know about for the very near future of bots in customer service:

  1. They Will Get Smarter
  2. They Will Solve More Types of Problems
  3. They Will Interact Through Both Voice and Text
  4. They Will Communicate in More Places Than Ever Before
  5. They Will Go Where No Human Can Go
  6. They Will Power Conversational Marketing
  7. They Will Power Internal Efficiencies, Too 

1. Customer Service Bots Will Get Smarter

Chatbots of today function primarily with some limited number of questions and answers. The front-end communication process can be organized:

  1. Using a decision tree (starting at the topic level and winnowing down to the answer), or
  2. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to source the best answer for the question asked. Many bots today use some form of AI because it significantly shortens the process of finding an answer. For a simple example, think about how you can find where you stored an app on your smartphone by typing it into the search function, or how you can find any song in your playlist by searching by name. The difference here is that the chatbot is using full sentences instead of single words or phrases, allowing you to converse more naturally.

However, the most sophisticated bots use Natural Language Processing (NLP) to interpret nuances of language and better understand the intent of a question. For instance, NLP technology can distinguish the different intent behind these two similar questions:

  • Is your fresh food organic?
  • Is your organic food fresh?

omega market customer self-service example pet food

The cool thing about this technology is that it can “learn” from ongoing conversations using supervised machine learning. That means your chatbot will become “smarter” at using everyday language the more that people use it. On Day 1, your chatbot might not understand that 10 bucks equals 10 dollars, but by Day 3 it will have caught on. This self-learning capability can deliver a more human-like experience with natural communication.

One company using advanced NLP in its chatbot is Blue Diamond. Within the first month of implementation, the chatbot was already answering 90% of questions correctly on the first try. 

2. Chatbots Will Solve More Types of Problems

The best chatbots provide value by helping people solve problems. While the number of use cases keeps expanding, the most cost-effective solutions tend to automate repetitive processes. Here are a few examples of how chatbots are being used today:

  • Help customer service answer simple questions, such as what are the ingredients in a product
  • Help tech support explain the step-by-step process for putting together a kit or using new devices
  • Help marketing qualify a prospect by figuring out what product they’re interested in

This research from Drift and SurveyMonkey is also illuminating about how people want to use chatbots today:

future of customer service chatbots

The key to the above examples is that they typically involve a single source providing the answers to questions. For instance:

  • The ingredients to a product could be sourced from a product information management system
  • The installation instructions could be sourced from a knowledgebase of manuals
  • The sales prospecting questions could be sourced from a company’s website

But in all of the examples above, the chatbot would be able to solve more problems if it could access more data. That’s where the bot side of the chatbot comes in. The bot is the engine that powers the processes to solve the need expressed in the chat.

In the future, chatbots will be connected to more than one or two back-end systems at a time. For instance, the same chatbot could be integrated into the Customer Service CRM, the Sales CRM, the order-entry system, knowledge databases, and more. Bots can also leverage Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to run more complex processes – like authenticating a customer’s identity, processing credit card payments, or setting up a new user account. As the patchwork of back-end tech systems keeps evolving, chatbots will become infinitely more powerful. They will simply be able to do more.

3. Customer Service Bots Will Interact Through Both Voice and Text

Currently, chatbots interact through text. In the future, chatbots will morph into what some people are now calling Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA). An IVA enables customers to communicate with a company using both voice and text through multiple devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, smart speakers, and even Internet of Things (IoT) devices. When you talk, your response shows up as text. Speaking speeds up the interaction, since it’s faster to speak than to type.

This is important as voice-driven virtual personal assistants such as Siri, Alexa, and Cortana are rapidly becoming widely adopted. It’s also important for digital accessibility, as the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws originally applied to physical locations are being extended to digital properties.

A recent survey by Aberdeen found that only 18% of companies currently use IVA to support customer experience management, however 23% more intend to add this capability by mid-2020. That’s a mind-blowingly fast adoption, nearly doubling the use of IVA technology within a year’s time.

bots for customer service impact to CX

Similarly, Gartner found that 47% of organizations expect to use chatbots for customer care, and 40% expect to deploy virtual assistants. 

Including voice recognition into chatbots increases the urgency for intelligent NLP, since people speak differently than they type. For instance, a person might type “best smartphone with wide-angle camera” but ask “What is the best smartphone with a wide-angle lens?” Small changes to syntax can make a difference for chatbots’ understanding of language if they’re not using NLP.

4. Customer Service Chatbots Will Communicate in More Places Than Ever Before

Historically, the natural habitat of the chatbot has been the website. Now, chatbots are beginning to migrate to new and different channels, including social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) and texting platforms (such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and TikTok). They fit right in, as those channels are already conversational. Now, however, those conversations can be automated.

There are only 300,000 bots on Facebook Messenger, according to VentureBeat – a drop in the bucket compared to Facebook Messenger’s 1.3 billion monthly users and 8 billion messages a day. But expect this number to rise soon!

In a realm where instantaneous responses are expected, chatbots have the potential to significantly enhance the customer experience, as there simply aren’t enough hands to answer all of the inquiries coming in.

For those of you hesitant to introduce a chatbot into such a dynamic environment, consider making your chatbot interactions dynamic, too. For instance, a customer service agent could interact with a person through social media, then use a chatbot to run part of the conversation, then jump back in to complete the interaction.

A good thing about using chatbots for social media and texting platforms is that by and large, the back-end system can remain the same. That means once you’ve tested and perfected your chatbot on one channel, it’s simple to roll out a seamless experience across additional channels where your customers expect you to be.

5. Self-Service Bots Will Go Where No Human Can Go

Companies today are using proven tools to help improve customer experience, including customer personas and journey maps. What companies can’t do, however, is walk that journey alongside the customer in real time.

Enter the chatbot or IVA, with the ability to personalize every single interaction. Chatbots can accompany every single customer through nearly every step of their journey, providing personalized problem-solving at every step of the way – exactly if, when, and where they’re needed.

Say a company analyzes historical customer interactions and figures out the factors that represent the greatest likelihood that a person will buy a product, a companion product, or upgrade. Armed with that insight, the chatbot could influence behavior in a way that no human can, simply because humans cannot be there.

In one example, if a telecommunication services provider were to determine that customers who purchase higher-priced products are more likely to buy a device protection plan, the chatbot could proactively present the option to the buyer at exactly the right moment of the sale, using unobtrusive, conversational language. What an opportunity to up-sell!

Chatbots are also being used to collect instant feedback. Rather than emailing a customer satisfaction survey, some companies are asking customers to chat a quick response to a “how are we doing” rating immediately after interacting with an online game, watching a movie, or shopping online. The data is collected in the company’s CRM for later analysis.

6. Customer Service Bots Will Power Conversational Marketing

The rise of the digital economy has changed the way that people shop. Whether they do research online before going to the store, shop on websites, or shop over social media, the shopping process has become much less personal than it used to be. Conversational marketing is the newest trend to re-introduce personal interaction back into the shopping process.

Conversational marketing steps buyers through your marketing and sales process using real-time conversations. It builds relationships and creates authentic experiences with customers. Conversational marketing usually begins when a chatbot uses targeted messaging to engage with people when they’re on your website, app, social media… you get the picture.

Conversational marketing can be especially helpful on mobile devices. It can be easier to chat with an agent or chatbot than spend time clicking and scrolling through a website. Also, customers can provide specific information to get personalized support during their shopping experience.

Hubspot recently experimented on its website by replacing lead-generation forms with live chat. This produced a whopping 20% increase in qualified opportunities. Granted, this also created a spike in hiring of internal sales reps to handle the influx of one-to-one conversations. A chatbot would have minimized some of that increase. 

People always have and always will expect conversations to be helpful, personal, and empathetic. The difference now is chatbot technology can enable those conversations to happen at scale.

7. Service Chatbots Will Power Internal Efficiencies, Too

As we’ve seen above, there are great benefits and efficiencies to be gained from implementing customer service bots or IVAs. Why should they be limited to customers? They don’t have to be!

Chatbots of the future will also power internal conversations, making it easier for employees to find answers or solve problems that currently waste valuable resources. Chatbots can help customer service agents locate products and find answers to common questions just as easily as they do for customers. The same technology can be easily deployed in both directions. Chatbots can also reduce training resources for new employee onboarding.

In fact, some companies are testing chatbots internally before launching them externally to customers. That way, employees work out all the kinks and train the chatbot in NLP before prime time with customers.

The benefits are using this technology internally have been proven. Aberdeen reports that companies using IVA for customer service employees enjoy:

  • 64% greater annual increase in agent productivity
  • 4.2X decrease in the number of transfers and escalations
  • 27X decrease in the time spent by supervisors assisting contact center agents

While they’re unlikely to replace thinking humans anytime soon, customer service chatbots are here to stay because they provide value. To learn how a bot designed for customer service can help your organization, schedule a conversation with us today