During 2018, Gartner noted a remarkable 160% spike in interest around chatbots and associated technologies, compared to previous years. While there are certain limitations and user frustrations that still need to be addressed in this technology category, many chatbot solutions are growing more sophisticated and capable of providing greater business value than spitting out canned answers to routine questions.
“While the earliest versions of conversational bots were simple response platforms, today’s AI-powered bots are much more powerful – and will only become more sophisticated and capable in the coming years.” – Accenture
These more advanced conversational agents are called intelligent chatbots – and they combine the power of automation with the power of AI to offer a much richer range of services. In fact, when it comes to businesses investing in AI, the 2019 Gartner CIO Survey found that chatbots are the main AI-based application used in their respondents’ organisations.
What are chatbots, exactly?
Chatbots are software solutions that humans can interact with using spoken language, text-based communication or a combination of both. Today, most chatbots are accessed via platforms such as Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa; messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or WeChat; and companies’ custom applications or websites that offer live chat services.
Smarter technology stacks
Intelligent chatbots can be embedded with multiple types of artificial intelligence, including natural language processing (NLP), machine learning and computer vision.
This facilitates the creation of smart digital assistants that can analyse and synthesise natural language and speech, working together with machine learning to gain a better understanding of the context and meaning of user requests. Intelligent chatbots can, for example, translate content into other languages or conduct sentiment analysis to identify whether user input is positive or negative.
Additionally, as machine learning algorithms learn from new data and experiences (i.e. interactions with users), they can improve their performance over time, without being explicitly programmed to do so.
Going forward, as AI services grow more advanced and accessible, more businesses will be able to benefit from intelligent chatbots. Gartner predicts that by 2022, 70% of office workers will interact with conversational platforms daily. Focus areas include customer service, knowledge management and user support. 
Bringing humans into the loop
Contrary to what many organizations may think, humans still have an important role to play in the intelligent chatbot universe. With a digital process automation (DPA) solution incorporated into the technology stack, intelligent chatbots can be programmed to hand live customer interactions over to a skilled human agent when the situation requires emotional intelligence, human judgement or a solution that the chatbot is unable to handle automatically.
With all the routine tasks handled by the chatbot, humans only need to focus on the cases that require their unique skills and knowledge. This helps to optimise human resources while ensuring that customers get the type of service they need in an efficient manner.
Impact on the customer experience
Organizations can use intelligent chatbots to automatically manage a range of customer service tasks, from answering questions to booking tickets to acting as virtual sales assistants that provide recommendations and guide customers through the buying cycle.
When chatbots are well-designed, they can dramatically improve response times and provide customers with assistance at any time of day or night. And when they are augmented with AI, chatbots can also provide a more contextual and intuitive service, which makes them much easier to use than standard business applications.
All these features make it easier for enterprises to meet the expectations of their increasingly digitally empowered and convenience-focused customers, who don’t want to wait hours or jump through multiple hoops to get the answers, information or services they need.
By automating routine tasks, chatbots reduce the amount of human effort required to serve customers, which can represent a substantial cost saving in enterprises that need to handle a large volume of repetitive queries. As customer bases grow, intelligent chatbots allow companies to handle more queries and interactions without the need to scale up headcount.
For these reasons, intelligent chatbots could soon fuel a shopping revolution. A recent Capgemini survey of more than 12,000 consumers found that over the next three years, 70% of customers, on average, will use voice assistants to purchase products digitally rather than visiting brick and mortar dealers, stores or banks.
Chatbots at work
Importantly, companies need to understand that beyond being useful in customer-facing scenarios, chatbots can provide valuable support in the workplace itself – enabling visionary business leaders to meet the expectations of a new generation of workers who are used to interacting with the world via digital channels.
Intelligent chatbots can, for example, be designed to:
- Navigate complex enterprise systems and large volumes of data to find and return information accurately and efficiently.
- Provide an advisory role, by accessing and analysing data from multiple sources to provide insights and recommendations that accelerate processes and enhance decision-making.
- Save time and effort by executing tasks or transactions automatically. Users can ask for tasks to be actioned using natural language commands and then the solution can pull in technology such as robotic process automation (RPA) or digital process automation (DPA) to execute the required actions across in-house systems and web services.
Get the most out of your intelligent chatbot
In summary, here are two recommendations for any business looking to introduce an intelligent chatbot solution:
Augment automation with AI
Chatbots are evolving beyond predetermined question and answer interactions. By incorporating readily available AI capabilities into your chatbot, you can create an intelligent digital assistant that understands and responds in natural language; and quickly sifts through complex enterprise content (as well as external web-based content, if necessary), to provide the required insights.
“Most importantly,” advises Shaun Leisegang, CEO of rapidMATION, “make sure you embed active machine learning capabilities into your chatbot system to ensure continual learning and improvement.” For example, as the chatbot interacts with more users, it will expand its ‘knowledge’ and learn from mistakes to manage more complicated queries more reliably.
Design efficient escalation paths to humans
No matter how many AI capabilities a chatbot has, there may still be times when it needs to escalate a conversation or request to a human being. Your chatbot solution should ideally be capable of orchestrating a smooth transition from bot to human.
A recent survey found that 59% of chatbot users are frustrated with the fact that they are often asked to repeat information when redirected from a chatbot to a human agent. When the chatbot is integrated with a process management system – such as a DPA platform – it’s possible to avoid this exasperating situation and seamlessly route tasks and data between chatbots and human agents to provide a frictionless user experience.
Where to from here?
When your business is ready to join the intelligent chatbot revolution, schedule a conversation with rapidMATION. As experts in all types of intelligent automation, we have an intelligent chatbot solution that weaves together market-ready AI and chatbot capabilities from Microsoft, DPA software from K2 and RPA technology from UiPath.
Our enterprise-grade, AI-powered conversational bots enable users to ask questions, receive answers and complete tasks through natural dialogue. As a first step, however, we can help you to identify the most beneficial use cases for chatbots in your enterprise; and customise our offering to integrate with the software investments you already have in place.
Let’s chat. We’d also like to invite you to sign up for our webinar on 11 December, which unpacks this topic in more detail.