Will chatbots revolutionise or wreck customer service?

Written by on April 13, 2016 in Opinion with 6 Comments

chatbotsA wave of announcements and news about chatbots can only bring out the cynics at DisruptiveViews. Tiny little machines that understand what we do and deliver personalised services accordingly? How long have we been trying to do that, with little, no, or a negative impact? Announcements from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg about how he will gradually turn Messenger into big business based on bots seems brave, when Microsoft had to terminate Tay for robotically ranting about all sorts of inappropriate things.

Chatbots, apparently, will revolutionise customer service. No longer, the story goes, will we have to battle with hideous IVR systems. Companies and customers will seamlessly interact with each other, ordering, provisioning and delivering services via, if Mr Z gets his way, Messenger. “You’ll never have to call 1-800 FLOWERS again” he said.

Chatbots have been around a while but with the new impetus in AI and machine learning their time, apparently, has come.

“People like a personalised experience and when the chatbot can remember personal details and follow-up,” said Lauren Kunze, principal at Pandorabots, who has been in this arena for over a decade.

Will chatbots work? Certainly the will and the investment is there. “Our goal is to make personalization available at scale for businesses,” Seth Rosenberg, Messenger’s product manager, said in an interview. “It’s giving them ways to deeply engage with their consumers as everything becomes more competitive.”

In principle, this innovation might deliver what the communications industry has been trying to deliver for over a decade – proper personalisation.

The concern must be that, so far, personalisation on sites like Facebook have been the blunt slapping of adverts in our timelines (which are now also being cluttered up with ‘Memories’ and other junk). And the adverts that are being slapped in our faces are generally for things that we have either just bought and therefore do not want, or just looked at and do not want.

There is a feeling, as in many instances in the software world, that we are being beta tested on. Unlike telcos, the digital service providers and device manufacturers are quite happy to experiment on their customers (and normally Twitter explodes with indignation when it does not work). But when it comes to something as important as customer service and the fundamental ways that customers and companies interact it is a huge bet to take. And it is bound to go wrong before it goes right, and it will end up all over the press.

The irony, of course, is that Facebook was set up to connect people with people, not machines. And, anyway, some people might like calling 1-800 FLOWERS.

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Alex Leslie

About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .

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  1. Avatar Bob says:

    To put it another way, ‘In principle, this innovation might deliver what the communications industry has been trying to deliver for over a decade – phony personalisation.’
    As I may have observed before, the better that Facebook (and plenty of others) get at this kind of palaver, the less people will like it. Current attempts at targeted advertising may be lame and awful (and I speak as someone who has been ‘relentlessly’ targeted to buy things that not only have I looked at, or bought already, but have actually sold already) but they’re really no worse than being hit on in a bar by someone who likes the cut of your jib but otherwise doesn’t know you from Adam. A brisk ‘no thank you’ is quite sufficient to deal with that situation, with no offence taken on either side.
    Being ‘botted’ by some vile humanoid thing that ‘can remember personal details and follow-up’ is much more like being stalked, however, and that’s the kind of ‘personalised experience’ that people really don’t like…

    • Alex Leslie Alex Leslie says:

      I think you are right – actually there is a class action suit against Facebook at the moment by people suffering from cancer (and therefore visiting cancer treatment sites) who object to being bombarded with cancer cures. Not what you want in your timeline!

  2. Avatar Ehtisham Rao says:

    Great discussion. Automation on personalization is one piece of the puzzle the other is user participation and data . Telcos in particular need to participate else context will be a problem due to lack of data. Messaging or p2p chat is already becoming pervasive in care so I do think we’re embarking on a sea change here. Of course this is a way of opening up more profiling channels for Facebook to rule the world so to speak.

  3. Avatar Joe Zeff says:

    If robots replace all the call center workers, what will they do. Schools in India, Philippines, and parts of Africa are now focused on turning out call center workers, classes are taught and grades awarded for US sports knowledge, geography, accents… What good is a New Jearsey accent to an out of work call center agent in Mumbai.

  4. Avatar Joe Zeff says:

    Hold on! Seems there is hope.

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