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Q&A: Why Chatbots Aren't Just for Digital Channels

What do you picture when you think about chatbots? A speech bubble on a screen? Maybe one of the many virtual assistant devices making their way into homes? Whatever the picture is in your mind’s eye, it’s likely it involves digital channels. But Scott Horn, CMO of [24]7.ai, says you’re missing a big piece of the puzzle if you’re only taking a digital approach to chatbots.

Q: You think that taking a digital-only approach to chatbots is a mistake. Why?

A: While the digital world opened up new avenues of conversation with customers, and businesses were fast to test those channels, they overlooked the simple fact that communication by voice is faster, easier, and more effective. Voice calls will continue to grow in volume even while digital channels take hold. Companies should consider a strategy that uses a common platform to support interactions across both voice and digital channels, rather than just investing solely in digital channel transformation. With AI technology, companies can transform traditional IVR into a conversational interface that can predict caller intent, combine voice with digital and visual displays, and reduce hold times by easily transitioning to chat.

Q: Why do voice calls still matter?

A: For many consumers, a phone call is still the most convenient way to connect to a company. One reason is because humans crave human-like communication. This is also why many brands still want voice as a channel to keep their brand approachable. Taking away voice would mean taking away a channel for customers who may not have access to an app or mobile website. For companies that do not have the ability to go fully digital, a good way to transform customer service is by investing in transforming their existing IVR systems into web-aware IVR systems. That can help drive self-service transformation at lower costs than going digital.

Q: How do chatbots figure into the voice call landscape?

A: Customers have high expectations for service, even when it comes to automated voice systems. Today’s IVR systems need to recognize a wide range of intents with a high level of accuracy. By combining predictive, cross-channel natural language processing with Deep Neural Networks (DNN) modeling and Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technologies, speech recognition is vastly more accurate than it was a few years ago. This results in customers being understood and having their issues addressed with minimal effort. The integration of web and IVR makes customer journeys more personalized and conversational, and gives the consumer a natural way to interact…

Q: Can you give us an example of how "web aware" IVR works?

A: An example would be booking a trip on an airline website and then calling the airline to confirm the details. Because the IVR is web aware, it automatically understands that I am calling regarding my booked trip and without me having to repeat details or refer to the trip, it helps answer my queries related to baggage allowance or check in, rescheduling or ordering meals. Because the system is “aware” of my online activity, it knows call intent and I don’t have to repeat myself.

Q: If a company is starting to think about taking a more holistic approach to chatbots, where should they start?

A: Chatbots need to support both voice and digital channels. Planning should begin with laying down the goals like increasing customer satisfaction and achieving cost savings. The next step is to understand what needs to be automated and what should not be automated. There is no point in automating processes that do not yield much result in either improving service or reducing effort and cost. As Virtual Personal Assistants or smart speakers become more common, companies should think about how consumers can use them to conduct transactions such as placing an order or booking a hotel. They should think about how a consumer can do this while driving a car and just using her voice. Advances in speech and natural language will continue to reshape interactions and play an important role in designing of conversational systems including chatbots.

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