Converting a website visitor into a loyal, high-margin customer requires conversational skills beyond simple grammar and semantics. To be successful, a live chat agent needs to read between the lines, assess the bigger picture of the sales opportunity at hand, hold multiple conversations at once, and respond to their conversation partner with timing, wit, and emotional intuition.
This is changing with the wider adoption of artificial intelligence. Chatbots are becoming the norm for streamlining operations and costs. However, depending entirely on chatbots as brand ambassadors can be risky.
Chatbots As Brand Ambassadors Can Be Risky
Potential customers are more likely to do business with people they like, and the best way to get them to like you is to develop rapport. When a sales person has rapport with a client, they establish a common ground of experience or expertise and create a mutual base from which to partner and support each other’s goals. Recently, IBM Watson has made several impressive claims and closed sales with big brands and enterprises such as Toyota. However, other chatbot snafus have shown that they are inadequate for most sales applications because, unlike writing copy, customer service requires the dynamic art of two-way conversation. Let’s look at another example – conversational speech recognition. Geoff Zweig, a researcher at Microsoft, claims that bots have reached parity with humans in recognizing speech with 5.9% accuracy. While this is exciting news, it still isn’t accurate enough to give customers the best service possible. In addition, the study had bots transcribe speech from a voice recording rather than an actual conversation, which requires crafting accurate responses on the fly. Two-way conversation is much more challenging for bots.
Chatbots Gone Wrong!
There have been significant advances in chatbot technology recently, but live chat agents still reign superior for e-commerce applications. From Microsoft’s Tay.ai to Skype’s Translator, a handful of highly publicized and embarrassing occurrences have shown that bots aren’t ready to be the first point of contact with humans. Chatbot issues are prevalent and there seems to be no end in sight.
Tay.ai, a chatbot developed by Microsoft, was designed to be a millennial Twitter user who could interact with users between the ages of 18 to 24. Microsoft intended for Tay.ai to learn from each conversation she had. Users engaged with Tay on many subjects ranging from conspiracy theory to fashion, and, soon enough, Tay made several politically incorrect comments on Twitter before being pulled from the platform.
Earlier this year, Facebook shrunk its AI efforts after its bot fail rate hit 70%. What does this mean, exactly? Originally, the Facebook bots were meant to answer users’ questions and provide them with relevant web links and resources. The bot could only manage this task 30% of the time without a human agent. Facebook’s bot was inspired by Tencent’s WeChat app, which successfully uses chat applications for e-commerce. However, Facebook failed to account for mobile user behavior. According to VentureBeat, 29.1 million Americans still don’t make purchases on their mobile phones, which is much different from the mobile commerce rates of WeChat users in Asia.
Facebook isn’t the only company scaling back its AI efforts. Everlane, one of Facebook’s retail partners, announced that that it is removing several features of its Messenger bot. Despite this, Everlane will continue using Facebook messenger as a point of contact between customers and customer service agents.
One day, chatbots may be ready to be a valued brand ambassador and converse with customers without human intervention. However, that technology is likely five or more years away from where we are today. Until then, they should only be used to improve human-to-human interaction – not replace it.