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We’ve all been there: You press nine after listening to prompts for requests one-though eight, and are then asked to enter in personal data (which may or may not be recognized on the first try). You’re then put on hold for what seems like an eternity (listening to really bad muzak), and when you beg to speak to a “representative,” she once again asks for all the information you entered 30 minutes ago, when you first dialed in. This type of phone loop hell will likely become a thing of the past as innovations in chatbots take a firm hold this year in markets everywhere.

Thanks to refinements in chatbots, and a focus on creating the best customer experience, these phone queues soon will be put to pasture alongside the old rotary phones. And when you think about it, how many people are picking up their phones to call companies anyway? Less and less. It’s clear that the future of communication is text based and companies must adapt or perish.

This chatty form of artificial intelligence — which incorporates machine learning to “listen to” and “respond to” human conversation, by voice or by text – has actually been around since the 1960s but has now reached a maturity level that makes it user friendly, and the next great frontier in communication.

Chatbots allow companies to reach their customers and prospects where they are – typically in front of a screen — a laptop, smart phone or other device. They also can be found on the phone, but unlike the annoying Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems of the past, chatbots incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to essentially think like a Customer Service Rep (CSR). Chatbots can identify which callers are the most frustrated by the tone of their voice and escalate calls to senior CSRs; they can eliminate the need to listen to any options, since the customer simply states what he/she wants; and they can help identify patterns of behavior to alert companies to customers in danger of leaving, or to identify areas of customer service that may need attention.

Today’s new chatbots are springing up in insurance, healthcare, education and virtually any industry that needs to interact with a customer. They address the challenge of having to staff 24/7 call centers while anticipating the varying volume of calls in order to scale accordingly.

Chatbots also open up a new communication channel. Companies currently communicate with their customers and prospects through phone, email and social channels, but what about instant messages? Could you imagine running a company without a phone or email account? Soon chatbots will be in the same category.

This is the year we will see companies embrace chatbots and incorporate them as a must-have weapon in their customer service arsenal. Chatbots provides key competitive advantage — not only making the customer feel more loved, but also making customer service more productive. The days of sticking your customers in phone hell are numbered. It’s time to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk when it comes to personalizing the customer experience and embracing the new frontier in smart communication.

Stay tuned for our next blog that will provide pointers on how your company can get on board the chatbot bandwagon.

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