BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

The rise of chatbots – computer software that use AI to engage with humans and simulate a human conversation – is a key emerging trend in business today. In February 2021, Insider Intelligence predicted that nearly 40% of internet users worldwide prefer interacting with chatbots than virtual agents, and that by 2024, consumer retail spend via chatbots worldwide will reach $142 billion.

The benefits to organisations of chatbots today are fairly well known, such as the increased ability to handle high numbers of enquiries, and the ability to meet the increased demand for “always on” customer service, particularly in heavily service-driven industries such as banking and healthcare.

But beyond this, there are also several other strategic benefits that they can have for your business.

Here are five:

They can help to sell AI in your larger organisation

In the State of AI 2020, McKinsey outlines how the Covid-19 pandemic pushed a global bank’s efforts to give corporate customers better service, particularly around addressing the financial strains companies were experiencing during the pandemic. Once the bank had created “one source of truth” from data from both their online and offline interactions, they launched an AI-powered chatbot to respond to the significant increase in customer queries. This not only helped customers get the help they needed, but also proved the power that AI held for the company to employees. This, then, had the knock on effect of accelerating other AI initiatives within the organisation that may not have been given the same priority (or budget) had the initial chatbot not been launched.

They can help your humans do better work

A 2018 AI Customer Experience Report by US software company LogMeln found that customer service agents currently spend 25% of their time looking for information about the customer in order to service them better, while 33% of their time is spent understanding the nature of the enquiry. During this process, the survey found that customer service agents needed to use on average three different systems to get this information, leading to time lags and customer frustration. Working with chatbots however, the survey found that chatbots not only help with faster resolution times, but also make the customer service agent’s job easier. The chatbot can gather the information needed – such as who the agent is talking to, their history, and options to potentially solve the problem – which then frees up the customer service agent to spend more time solving the problem.

Businesses often equate chatbots with other self-service knowledge offerings such as an FAQ section. But when leveraged properly, chatbots have the potential to offer far more value than just helping answer a customer’s query. Because they’re conducting a real conversation with the user, chatbots provide an opportunity to engage with a customer in a much more meaningful way than if that customer were simply browsing a web page or purchasing a product online.

Through machine learning, they’re also able to iterate on the interaction with customers and upsell or cross-sell in a personal and conversational way.

They can help you monitor consumer data and gain insights

Beyond simply answering customer queries, chatbots can also have a far more meaningful role in terms of harvesting consumer data within an organisation to extract key insights. As a rule, people don’t generally jump at the chance to complete a survey about your company, so a chatbot can gather feedback more naturally through asking questions during interactions. From there, the tool can track buying patterns and analyse consumer behaviour. Using this data, companies can then make decisions around improving their company offering, or where to expand their reach.

With all these potential benefits in mind, it’s key to remember that in order to really add value, a chatbot should be designed with the target audience in mind – so that it can chat in the same way as the actual people its communicating with. Faye Ross, senior talent acquisition specialist at digital recruitment company Strider, says that achieving this means involving a UX writer to help in the chatbot design. “It really is all about the user experience, and making the conversation intuitive so that the messaging actually makes sense to anyone who uses it,” she says.

Ross cites the example of a company having to rework a chatbot that had been designed by developers, as after getting customer feedback, they realised it didn’t resonate with customers when it was being used. This can then result in frustrated customers who may take their business elsewhere – and leave with a bad impression of the business in their minds.

In the years to come, chatbots are set to be an effective way for organisations to harness the power of AI and drive themselves forward in an increasingly competitive world. With added advantages such as increasing engagement, drawing consumer insights and helping employees do their jobs better, chatbots have potential far beyond just being automated virtual agents, they can also be highly strategic tools to help understand and leverage actual customer insights.

Catherine Black