In the technology world, artificial intelligence is now taking center stage. Its use has expanded exponentially in recent years, going from something used by researchers and manufacturers to a product readily available across the globe — in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Between Alexa and Siri, pretty much everyone has some sort of AI in the palm of their hands (or corner of their kitchen).
Although people may not think about their handy virtual assistant as being a part of the artificially intelligent realm, they are. Even so, having this technology so readily available has done little to quell the controversy surrounding AI. Stephen Hawking has expressed his reservations on the subject. Elon Musk started a non-profit to preach caution regarding the dangers of artificial intelligence.
Countless movies have explored the possibilities of technology rising up against us, painting a petrifying picture of our peaceful helpers beginning to think for themselves and transforming into vicious creatures far more powerful than us regular humans. Unfortunately, The Avengers won’t be saving us from Ultron in real life (but we’re not sure they’ll have to).
Robots Replacing Humans at Work
On a much smaller (and less anxiety-inducing) scale, artificial intelligence has already been integrated with relative ease into our everyday lives. AI is designed to help us accomplish tasks quickly and efficiently — from grabbing the weather report to telling us what the next step in the recipe is. Siri reminds us about things we’re supposed to do so we don’t forget. She keeps us on track. She’s like a personal assistant who gets a little sassy sometimes.
Machines replacing humans is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it comes to efficiency. It’s more expensive to employ humans than it is robots, which means businesses could save money by automating basic processes through artificial intelligence. This practice can also free up humans to do things robots (theoretically) can’t, like long-term strategic planning and reviewing a team’s progress. In many ways, AI can be quite helpful — but perhaps not for everyone in every situation.
The Chatbot: How Artificial Intelligence is the New Customer Service Rep
You’ve probably encountered chatbots around the internet by now (and to a lesser, though increasing degree, mobile apps), asking you if you need anything, offering to answer questions, trying to upsell you on whatever product that specific website is pushing. They pop up (usually from the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, accompanied by a sound to make sure you know it’s there) and block just enough of the page you’re viewing so you have to pay attention to them, even if it’s only for a moment to figure out where the little X is to close the box.
This type of artificial intelligence is being used to supplement (if not partially replace) real live customer service representatives, as well as reaching out to customers who may legitimately need help, but might not otherwise ask for it. The last thing the retailer wants is for you to leave their site without accomplishing your goal. If you have a question, they want to answer it. If you can’t find something, they want to find it for you. But most importantly, they want to make sure you’re satisfied so you buy something.
Whether we actually enjoy this method of customer service is a different discussion, but those little chatbots might just be a good alternative to a sales associate, which is obviously impossible to provide if you’re an online retailer.
Regardless, we have to acknowledge the potential here. The way we communicate with companies has shifted dramatically from the way it was even 10 years ago. No one wants to email a company when they have a problem and they definitely don’t want to call a customer service center (no one uses their phone as an actual phone, anyway).
And what happens when you do? You get an automated service that wants you to talk to it. That AI answering machine will take your account information (probably five different times while it misunderstands your date of birth) and attempt to point you in the right direction. And of course, when you finally get a human, you have to go through that entire process all over again. Seriously, why can none of them properly get your account info from that automation?
The Potential of AI on Your Website
Chatbots function by searching for terms that match the inquiry. So if that little artificially intelligent box appears in your browser window and asks if you need help, you might just think to yourself, YES, I have questions about this thing I need to buy. You can simply type your inquiry in the little box and “Christina” or whatever name assigned to the AI bot will scour the website for the answer.
Imagine the possibilities for websites that say, have an extensive blog discussing a wide range of topics that could be appealing to their users (wink, wink). Artificial intelligence could access and search hundreds of thousands of archived pages on your website in a matter of seconds, spitting out the best matched results into that little pop-up window.
If you know you’ll be integrating artificial intelligence into your customer service branch, you could even take that opportunity to optimize your website for it. If people ask about specific features of a product or its compatibility with another product, this is your chance to make sure each product page has all of that information — since these pages will be resources for your bot.
Is Artificial Intelligence Right for You?
Making the leap to artificially intelligent customer service representatives can be tough and landing on the decision to do it can be even more difficult. Sometimes, it’s a matter of labor costs, but others, it’s to fill a void — like not having sales associates on the floor in a retail environment. Could this kind of customer service be something your business would benefit from?
Well, it might depend on how satisfied your customers already are. How are your current customer service channels holding up? Are they able to get ahold of you at all? Do your existing customers seem to also be repeat customers? Are your current customers expressing frustration or dissatisfaction? But perhaps most importantly, is your website converting casual browsers into paying customers?
If it’s not — if you have a lot of traffic coming into your site, poking around, then leaving without consuming your product — you might want to consider a move toward artificial intelligence. It’s entirely possible that potential customers could benefit from the assistance a conversational bot could provide.
If potential customers are spending time on your site, they have questions, obviously. Perhaps your website or mobile app needs a content (or design) overhaul because it’s not answering all the questions they have, or perhaps having some virtual assistance would have done the job (of converting questions to sales). Of course, both of these solutions take time and neither is free, so you’ll have to determine which is a better course of action for you.
However, integrating conversational design just to say you have the feature (or to keep up with a competitor) is not worth the trouble you’ll go through to get there. Incorporating chatbots can be expensive and time consuming, so before you allocate precious resources into Christina, what you need to determine first is if an investment in artificial intelligence would ultimately help your business.
Taking the Leap into AI
Incorporating artificial intelligence in a way that gives your customers an experience they need (even if they don’t realize they need it) is crucial. The bottom line here is that if you make the decision to integrate AI into your website or mobile app, you need to do it well. No one wants to use a customer service system that’s a complete hassle. Make it easy to use, make it efficient, make sure it is fully integrated with your CRM so people don’t have to enter information three different times, and above all, make it helpful.
As your website or mobile app develops, make sure you’re constantly fine tuning the artificial intelligence aspect. Update her. Use Watson to your full advantage. Invest back into your bot the way she’s investing in you by helping convert your customers.
And don’t rule out humans entirely! As a designer or an entrepreneur, you understand the value of human touch more than anyone. Perhaps what works best for your business is a combination of both — a way to free up your labor force for tasks that require a bit more finesse, while leaving them enough time to help customers in ways a robot simply can’t.
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