Remember the last time you talked to a customer service. Your emotions were on the edge, you felt like boiling, but a calm and reasonable manager at the other side of a screen or handset quickly solved your problem. Were you satisfied? But were you sure you interacted with a human? According to statistics, 80% of enterprises already use chatbots or plan to implement them by 2020. Surprise! You were served by artificial intelligence, or a chatbot, its tiny agent.
Chatbots: the origin story
The word “chatbot” derives from "chatterbot". This term was coined by Michael Mauldin in 1994. Any computer program that interacts with people through mobile apps, websites or instant messengers and responds to customer requests can be called a chatbot. Chatbot technology is over 50 years old, but it in the past five years it has experienced a real breakthrough.
1966 - Joseph Weizenbaum developed a chatbot Eliza at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AI Lab to show how people can communicate with machines.
1972 - Psychiatrist Kenneth Colby developed Perry, a program for the treatment of schizophrenia.
1995 - Richard Wallace created A.L.I.C.E., the first virtual interlocutor, a program capable of establishing a dialog with a person in natural language.
2006 - IBM developed a computer program that could answer questions and compete with people on a popular television show Jeopardy!
2010 - Apple created Siri, the first smart personal assistant that used natural language processing to understand the voice requests of users. It was a pioneering technology followed by virtual assistants from Google, Amazon, and Microsoft.
2016 - Facebook Messenger became the biggest “home” for chatbots. Currently, it contains more than 1,000,000 bots from different industries.
2017 – Development of Woebot, a healthcare bot designed to interact with patients suffering from depression and promote their rehabilitation.
Thanks to its versatility, the chatbot technology has become very popular. In fact, a smart assistant can answer any question, you just need to train it on high-quality data.
Chatbots have four main applications:
- Consulting. Chatbots can offer 24x7 consulting on any issue—from ordering a bouquet of flowers to medical aid. Every day we interact with such tools, sometimes without even noticing it. Processing calls to an airline, changing the price plan, or the balance on the bank account—the task of bots to communicate with customers and solve their problems. Previously, people surfed the Internet searching for answers to their questions. Today, messengers have replaced everything. You no longer need to search: just ask your question in a chat and get an instant answer.
Case study. The creators of the Vkusvill (Russian organic food retail chain) bot believe that the age of mobile apps is coming to an end. There is just way too many of them. A Telegram bot will help customers to change their favorite products, show all discounts and offers, find the nearest store, and try to answer all their questions.
- Routine tasks. Business assistants will relieve you from simple tasks that consume the time of experts and make their lives easier. Repeating interactions with suppliers, first-line technical support for the office, conference scheduling, reserving meeting rooms, printing documents and purchasing airline tickets—these tasks can be delegated to smart assistants, and the time freed up can be dedicated to something that really matters.
Case study. This spring, Alfa Bank launched a smart chatbot that received more than a hundred calls from employees every day with questions about the conditions and rules for opening settlement accounts to clients within the framework of payroll projects. These were standard questions, the answers to which were also quite similar and uniform. Bank representatives claimed that the bot was able to communicate in a plain and understandable language.
- Reduce costs and save personnel time. In the future, bots will be able to replace entire business units. But this does not mean that people will remain without work — they will get other, more interesting tasks, in which they can better fulfill their potential.
Case study. In large businesses, recruiters spend half of their time on the initial elimination of candidates: place of residence and willingness to relocate, educational background and so on. Pyaterochka (Russian retail chain) launched a bot that contacted the candidates in the messenger, asked them questions, sorted out those who failed to meet the requirements and automatically scheduled interviews with suitable candidates. The bot allows the HR department to save up to 200 man-hours per month and reduces the employee recruitment time from 7–20 days to five and a half.
- Promotion and sales. Today, 95% of global Internet users use instant messengers in everyday communication. The average time of using them is over 2 hours a day. On average, Russian people have between 3 and 6 messengers installed on their smartphones. According to a Facebook survey, more than 50% of customers say that they are more likely to make purchases in a company with which they can communicate using chat.
Case study. H&M's Chatbot not only copies the functions of a website and a mobile app, where it helps to place an order. It can also recommend clothes to its users based on their search history and previous messages.
At the crest of the wave
At the present time, businesses are very interested in smart conversational agents. The chatbot market is growing at a tremendous pace: in 2024 it is going to reach $ 1.34 billion. This market creates real growth drivers. Products such as Alexa and Google Home rely on the basic chatbot technology for information retrieval and offer new approaches to the use of conversational communication tools. AI-powered agents combine the power of automated speech with personalized customer information to directly interact with customers and quickly process claims, make banking transactions, update trip itineraries, or sign up for loyalty programs.
The ability to speak naturally with a trained “virtual service agent” who has the ability to detect a client’s interest and associate this interest with a personalized set of solutions can significantly increase the added service value. New, more effective, virtual assistants built using a pre-trained algorithm enable a breakthrough in customer experience. They increase customer satisfaction, confidence, and loyalty.
Softline Digital Lab has not only knowledge but also hands-on experience in using innovative technologies to create digital services for various lines of business.
At present, the laboratory is developing a virtual assistant for one of the largest Russian food retailers. The project involves the creation of a DialogFlow-based chatbot that will completely replace internal first-line support. AI technologies running on a modern platform will help employees in almost all tasks, from administrative issues to back-office IT support. The project will solve several urgent problems of the company:
- Reduce the workload of the IT service department.
- Collect information about the company’s employees to increase the quality of answers in the future and provide personalized recommendations.
- Increase loyalty and engagement of employees in corporate processes.
Softline Digital Lab uses cutting-edge technologies in bot development: we are studying the industry expertise and the best practices in Russia and around the world. Digital transformation practices and ideas from our knowledge base help to create the best possible product.
The plans of Softline Digital Lab involve building a voice interface—in the future, the company's specialists will be able to communicate with the bot in real-time mode without interrupting their work. We are sure that this feature will open new opportunities for different categories of employees.