Are chatbots the future of customer service?

If you think this article is going to talk about how robots will replace humans by the end of 2025, I’m sorry to burst your bubble but it’s just the opposite. Artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots have a long way to go in terms of the competencies that humans possess.

Yes, it’s true that chatbots can help customer service teams cut operational costs by up to 30%. Additionally, we can’t deny the many perks of chatbots considering they don’t need to eat, sleep, or ever take a holiday. Unlike their human counterparts, AI will work seven days a week, 24 hours a day — all without a drop in performance level.

Chatbots have now become an indispensable part of our daily lives. That being said, I’ll go out on my limb and say this — they are not ready to take our jobs.

Chatbots can’t empathize with humans

The thing that keeps humans from losing their jobs to chatbots is their sentient ability to express empathy with fellow humans.

Chatbots do everything with surgical precision. They are more objective than all the world’s scientists and their empirical data combined. But even with all their AI-powered robotic precision, chatbots remain just that — our trusted sidekicks. They are our digital assistants whose job is to retrieve data, optimize processes, and save us time so that we can do our jobs better.

Chatbots are bundles of digital algorithms. They crawl to the deepest crevices of the digital universe to give us data that would take us ages to pull if we were on our own.No matter how artificially intelligent chatbots are or how smart their algorithms may be, they are not emotionally intelligent like we humans are.

So why are we using them?

Chatbots are most widespread in the customer service function. By design, customer service is the place where people come to have a heart-to-heart discussion to solve their problems.

Customer service people are therapists or first responders of the business world. They have to deal with the rawest human emotions all the time.

So why have chatbots been integrated into customer service where emotions fly wild and there is minimal room for miscommunication?

Simply because the majority of requests in customer service teams are repetitive in nature and chatbots are great at automating repetitive tasks.

So you see, even when chatbots are not capable of expressing empathy, they contribute directly to help their human masters follow up with real emotion where due. This gap is narrowing more and more as advancements in AI are made at an alarming rate.

AI is becoming more intelligent

Data scientists are making giant leaps to improve the existing technology of natural language processing (NLP), Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML), Machine Learning (ML), Deep Learning (DL) and emotion synthesis.

These improvements are helping chatbots improve their understanding of human sentiments.

With NLP, you can train your chatbots to understand the actual, non-literal intention of what a customer is saying. You can program the bots to respond to customer queries in a natural way

by giving them examples of interactions that they might encounter. The more examples they are exposed to, the better their quality of response becomes in the future.

chat bot in action

An example of a chatbot using NLP to interact with a customer.

Image source

SSML is similar to NLP but in the context of voice assistants such as Google Assistant, Siri, or Alexa. Voice bots use SSML to understand speech instructions they get via a voice interface and process them back into a text-to-speech response.

voice interfact

The sequence of action that takes place when you interact with a voice assistant.

Image source

Chatbots powered with AI, ML, or deep learning are perhaps the most advanced in terms of mimicking human responses as they self-train and are relatively independent of human intervention.

One of the best examples of an AI-powered bot that mimics human empathy well is the Insomnobot-3000, developed by Casper Mattress.

GIF insomnobot

GIF source

As the name implies, Insomnobot-3000 is an AI-powered chatbot that can keep company with those who struggle to fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning.

It’s a chatty text-based chatbot that is active from 11 pm to 5 am, the time when most insomniacs suffer from sleep deprivation. You have to subscribe to the service by texting a message to the company.

The bot is programmed to chat just like a human so that the users don’t feel like they are talking to a heartless robot. It learns your preferences over time and strikes casual conversations — ranging from your weekend plans to what’s your favorite midnight snack. These interactions are empathetic and make users feel at ease.

Make your chatbots count

The examples we discussed above make one thing clear — chatbots can try to mimic empathy, but at the end of the day it still takes a human to pull Pinocchio’s strings. You have to train chatbots and program them to take up a human personality so be sure to pick the right humans to develop your bots personality.

You can delegate the repetitive, mechanical tasks to chatbots so that they can engage with customers outside of your regular business hours.

When it comes to handling crucial issues that require human judgment, make sure there is a seamless hand-off from chatbots to a human service agent by ensuring that a real person is just a step or click away.

Chatbots and AI are as much a part of your customer service team as human agents but they have a long way to go. For the time being, imagine your chatbot as interning with their human counterparts until they learn the ropes and become mature enough to handle complex situations on their own.