Business Boost | 27 April 2017 - by KCOM

Chatbots are go

You might not have heard of them before, but you might have actually spoken to one and not even realised it, if its developers have done their job well.

Chatbots is the catch-all term for interactive assistants or systemsthat are growing in use in web and mobile messaging and in voice recognition. Think Siri, OK Google, and Cortana, or dedicated home devices like the Amazon Echo and its assistant Alexa.

Chatbots are being used in lots of areas of customer or advice services as a first point of contact. For example, the energy provider First Utility has an account management chatbot within its mobile app. It can answer questions about your account, energy tariff and bill and can also action requests such as changing tariff or requesting overpayment refunds. All of this happens just like a conversation with a real person and often the customer is none the wiser.

With stats showing that the majority of online social interaction is through messaging Facebook and Snapchat, it makes perfect sense for businesses to engage with consumers through this route.

But now you can’t just have call centres full of thousands of staff just waiting to chat to people, and if you're a small business you can’t spend all day waiting for a message. Interactive assistants may be the answer. Many questions customers have are common, and it's relatively simple to build a service that can provide answers to basic questions such as what are your opening hours. It’s much more immediate and engaging than email and it lessens the need for staff to sit waiting by the phone.

The concept of interactive assistants isn't new but technology advances simulate human intelligence and interaction, understand the spoken and written word and learn and understand data and patterns to create rules.

What does this mean?

It means the way that we will interact with organisations or our customers in the future will change considerably, making for a better customer experience.

You might WhatsApp your bank to get a statement or pay a bill, or use Facebook Messenger to book an MOT or even work through a fix process for a fault with your car. It's probably not too far away. Inevitably, the rise of the chatbot will see our interactions with companies change remarkably in the next few years, but the scary thing is we might not even notice how much of a part of our lives they become.

© KCOM Group PLC 2017