The Chatbot Hype is Over, But Chatbots Are Just Getting Started

By Elaina Ransford

The year of the chatbot has come and gone. And bots are here to stay.

Today, only 11 percent of consumers have a negative perception of chatbots, and the global bot market is expected to reach $1.23 billion by 2025. Not only is the technology finally here, but customers actually want to use it. It’s gone from being an overly-hyped new technology to a mainstay in brand to consumer interactions. So what’s next for the bot?

For some, 2018 has been a year of playing catch up. The New York City MTA, for instance, recently announced that it is implementing five different natural language processing (NLP) based chatbots to help agency employees with scheduling, citizen reporting, collisions, overtime, and traffic. Brands that played it safe over the past few years are now scrambling to make up for lost time, and are investing heavily as a result. For chatbot pioneers, though, the bots of today and tomorrow will consist of broadening capabilities and forming a cohesive conversational interface.

2018 is the Year of the End-to-End Chatbot

Now that chatbots are widely used in industries ranging from hospitality, to insurance, to finance, to mobile gaming — brands are increasingly investing in end-to-end chatbots.

To date, commercial chatbots have typically had a single purpose: whether that be to help a user find an item on an online retail store, order room service, find a flight, or perform general support functions. But bot capabilities in 2018 span more than just a single niche function: bots can be used now from the very first digital touchpoint through to post-purchase care.

The digital customer journey consists of searching for the right product, purchasing that product, tracking shipping, and ideally leaving feedback (with the option to reach out to customer service at any point throughout the journey.) The insurance industry has already embraced chatbot interfaces that cover every single one of these steps in a cohesive single conversation.

Users start the browsing process by outlining their needs to the chatbot, the bot then suggests a tailored insurance plan, the user pays by answering the bot’s queries for card information, and if the user has a post-purchase question — a bot is ready to respond. Chatbots are always available for customer service requests, and are there to guide users through purchasing decisions by offering one-click response options. Many major insurance companies have employed this end-to-end conversational interface, and other industries will soon follow suit.

The experience of an end-to-end chatbot is similar to getting personalized in-store care. Think of Nordstrom twenty years ago: customers frequented the store not because it offered lower price points, but because a representative assisted all customers from the moment they entered through to the moment they purchased. This level of personalized care is not just socially appealing, but is also efficient: customers can find what they want and buy it faster and more easily than browsing on their own.

Conversation is King

In order for the chatbot experience to work, the bot interface needs to mimic the conversations that consumers have via messaging with each other. This means being able to pick up a conversation on a new device, and at different time intervals. Think of how consumers Slack at work or iMessage with each other: the conversation continues across messaging interfaces, despite temporal breaks and device switching. Messaging is seamless across devices and touch points, which is why chatbots as an interface are so appealing. The conversation can start as “I’m looking for renters insurance” on an iPad, and continue a day later with a purchase on a computer. Three months later it can be picked back up when the customer wants to file a claim, or update payment information.

The key is that the conversation continues, so that the relationship between a brand and a customer evolves, instead of consisting of one-off interactions.

As more and more brands follow the insurance model and implement chatbots at every touchpoint, we will see conversations become a preferable interface to a standard web search, particularly on mobile. Instead of typing a query into a search bar, customers can just ask the chatbot to do the searching legwork for them. Again, this mimics the experience of superior in-person care, where a customer can ask the attendant for “a pair of chic black boots in a size six” and let the representative do the searching. Personalized end-to-end chatbots will be the new gold standard for a superior digital customer experience.

The Chatbots of the Future: More Personal Than a Human

While this new generation of bots is only just beginning to emerge, the potential for them is enormous. They offer a fully automated, scalable end-to-end superior customer experience that can also become highly personalized through machine learning. Just as Nordstrom became the leader in customer care by giving every single patron a personalized, highly involved experience, chatbot pioneers will give this same level of care to digital customers. The question now, is not what the next step for chatbots is, but who will be the first to offer this new chatbot experience.

Learn more about Helpshift’s chatbot capabilities here

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