Automated service has a bad reputation. Which is reasonable. We’ve all dealt with irritating phone support systems and we all know what it feels like to navigate unhelpful menus narrated by condescending prerecorded voices. But that’s all changing. A new generation of AI chatbots, powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP), is showing consumers what automation can do for service.
Often, the results are quite impressive, and the benefits are obvious. Support departments that rely on chatbots can save human assistance for cases that need it. This saves time and money and frees up knowledge workers to achieve higher-level goals. But we’re still in the early stages of this new technology and many organizations are unaware of how good chatbots can be.
To give you an idea of what’s possible, here are a few examples of the most compelling chatbots on the market, and what lessons we can draw from them.
Woebot Consoles the Anguished
Woebot is an online therapy chatbot that’s hugely popular. As of 2018, it’s used in 135 countries, and sends two million messages per week. It’s meant to fill in the gaps in mental health services that exist in many places. Often, patients find themselves in a state of distress, and would like to speak with a psychotherapist, but can't. They don't have the resources to secure one, or can’t find one immediately.
So, Woebot administers a science-based therapeutic method, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, on demand. It was developed by Alison Darcy, formerly a clinical psychologist at Stanford.
It appears to be working beautifully, judging by the testimonials on the Woebot website. One 24-year-old user says: “I really was impressed and surprised at the difference the bot made in my everyday life in terms of noticing the types of thinking I was having and changing it.”
If you’re not in the therapy business, what can Woebot teach you? Well, Woebot makes it clear that chatbots can have emotional impact, as well as being functional. Woebot proves that your support chatbot could do more than just solve problems. It could also leave customers with a warm feeling of encouragement and reinforcement. Contacting support for a problem is stressful at the best of times. Infusing your customers’ support experience with positive emotion could make all the difference.
Judy Hopps Entertains Children
In 2016, California-based startup Imperson helped Disney create a chatbot styled after a character from their film Zootopia. This chatbot, over Facebook, imitated Officer Judy Hopps, a determined law-enforcing rabbit. Children could message her at any time, and she would offer them mysteries to solve, as well as tips on solving crime. The bot reached millions of people. On average, their conversations lasted several minutes, according to Imperson co-founder Erez Baum.
This is a great demonstration of how chatbots don’t have to be boring. Rather than being bland, your chatbot's personality could embody your brand. It could be cheeky, like the voices used on Virgin Mobile's support service. Alternately, a chatbot created for a major financial institution could have a sober, paternal presence. Either way, the bot would present another opportunity to extend the brand’s emotional resonance.
Endurance Cares for the Elderly
Endurance, launched in 2017, is an open-source chatbot designed to help patients with Alzheimer’s. As anyone who’s taken care of an Alzheimer’s-stricken relative can tell you, this is not an easy conversational task. The bot will aim to accomplish it by mapping the speech capabilities of the patient in question. Over time, the bot develops a sense of what the patient can talk about. It then reinforces those conversational pathways through ongoing communication.
Not only is this useful for helping patients feel less lonely—it’s also helpful for caregivers. As part of its adaptation, Endurance gets a sense of how the disease is progressing. This helps caregivers can meaningfully interact with the patient. In the course of its normal activity, this bot helps everyone at once.
The lesson here is that chatbots can gather helpful data about their users even as they’re helping that users. That data could then be used to improve customer service. Moreover, it could help company-wide, by providing fuel for new product ideas. In a sense, the right chatbot can be a double agent.
Keep an Open Mind
As we’ve seen, chatbots can provide much more than just basic service. They can be charismatic and emotionally supportive. They can glean useful data from people who use them. So, if you’re considering a chatbot for your company, the question shouldn’t be “what can chatbots do?” Rather, the question should be “what can’t they do?"