Conversational AI is the use of speech-based assistants (such as chatbots, voicebots) in order to create an easier and more user-friendly experience for the customers.
AI unmasked: What is conversational AI
Artificial Intelligence of Chatbots: What Do You Need to Know.
While Chatbots have been around for a little while now, their presence is more noticeable thanks to Facebook and Microsoft’s recent advancements.
Initially customers complained about the robot-like experience and the limited functionality of first generation bots and rarely found them useful. The customers were skeptical about how valuable in practice chatbots actually are, which has left recent AI vendors like nmodes with the task to combat the leftover stigma from the poor customer experiences and shortcomings of these initial offerings.
Chatbots, like an IVR?
We’re all used to calling into a contact center and punching numbers into a menu to be routed to the correct agent or service to address our needs. Interactive Voice Response solutions (IVRs) drive this interaction and are basically If/then routing trees that “listen” to the digit entered and “transfer” the user to the appropriate next step. While tremendous advancements in technology have brought voice recognition capabilities, those first generation IVRs were all about automated actions based on prompts. Enter your account number, press 1 to speak to an agent, etc…
The first generation Chatbots are just like an IVR. They can respond to prompts to progress through a predetermined process or display some canned information like pricing, a contact number, route to an agent, etc., but that was about the extent of it. Still 1stgeneration Chatbots came with 4thgeneration expectations. While these basic functions have tremendous value to a business, the customer expectation is very different when dealing with a phone call vs. a chat session. Consumers have experienced IVR routing for decades whereas chat is still relatively new and is perceived as a conversation with a person, rather than interacting with a machine. Add on the fact that many vendors and consumers mislabeled Chatbots as Artificial Intelligence in the beginning and the expectation of a dynamic, responsive customer experience is even greater.
So it’s no surprise that customers were less than impressed with “Artificial Intelligence” that could only display simple answers and basic information. We were expecting Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey or KIT from Knight Rider, and we got a pixelated PONG instead.
Now, Artificial Intelligence has evolved to be integrated into Chatbots to deliver a more powerful user experience. While these new versions of Chatbots coming out are powered by Artificial Intelligence, AI powered chat also exists independent of bots in some instances. Confusing? Yeah, I was too.
The beauty behind true Artificial Intelligence is its ability to recognize the context of a conversation and respond with relevant, contextual information dynamically. A customer can now “speak” to technology the same way they would hold a conversation and the AI has the ability to “read” the customer’s intent to provide information quickly and efficiently. No more are you limited to a set of canned responses. The AI can reach in to a wider array of relevant information to craft unique responses based on any number of criteria. While in most cases AI is still limited to a few topics per use case, the technology is growing quickly, making almost daily improvements in functionality and customer experience.
What is even cooler is that the longer the AI is deployed, the more it “learns” and improves the speed and quality of responses. So while the scope of AI interactions is limited at first, the maturity curve is quick, delivering an ever-improving customer experience without having to invest in additional people, processes, or technology. It really is like a “growing up” of technology, right before your eyes.
How AI is changing the work landscape
"For better or worse, robots are going to replace many humans in their jobs,” says analysts from BBC, and the coronavirus is speeding up the process. Consumer preferences are evolving and recently consumer behavior demonstrates that we as a society have become more tolerant accepting of using automation in our daily routines.
In the professional workspace, most if not all companies have moved towards working from home. Given the unprecedented times, recruitment, the employees management, and the corporate governance processes and communication have moved online. As a result of pandemics many companies are experiencing hiring freezes, but many others have moved their recruitment efforts online. A few companies have begun piloting recruitment with the help of artificial intelligence. They are now leveraging AI to conduct online interviews and assessments and deliver data back to the employer. Now more than ever, companies are realizing the importance of moving towards a remote-friendly workforce. Being able to scale human capital on a larger scale online has definitely been accelerated recently.
I know for myself, as a current student who recently had their internship offers rescinded due to COVID-19, I’ve put myself back into the market. I’ve seen both small businesses and corporations utilize screening questions, video pitches, and unique riddles to test students’ critical thinking and how they fit into the company culture. This experience in itself has been revealing – after so many years of in-person interviews to suddenly having to emulate the same energy online or via video. Given the adjustment, at times it definitely felt unnatural to sit in front of my computer camera and pitch myself or answer video questions. However, going forward, I can see how automation and online platforms will become more explored given the time it saves and the bias it could remove during the recruitment process.
Yet it is not just a change in the recruitment process that we are seeing. The customer service environment, as I have seen first-hand, is under large stress. One of the first calls I had made was to an online retailer, to try and put in a return order. What seemed to be an idea that everyone else had as well, I was put into a queue that lasted more than 30 minutes. After hitting that 30-minute mark, I gave up and put off the task for a later date. Now, a month later, more and more companies are adopting chatbots and artificial intelligence into their customer service processes. These companies are beginning to provide information in a more efficient manner, and with less human capital.
Moving forward, in the next few months and post-COVID-19, it would be interesting to see which companies are focusing more on their digital transformation efforts. I believe that a larger number of universities and educational institutions will partner with tech companies to help digitize their working environments. And private businesses will continue to implement some of the already existing practices and produce products that cater to the remote working lifestyle and online interactions.