Our deep dive into all things Artificial Intelligence (AI) here on The Zip continues and today we are going to be talking about chatbots, conversational AI and how they can be utilised for customer engagement. These two types of AI are perhaps two people are familiar with and have had the most interaction with. Here you’ll find information on the evolution of customer engagement, definitions and features of both chatbots and conversational AI, as well as benefits, limitations and use cases, so let’s get stuck in!

Customer engagement: then and now

Customer engagement has always formed an important part of marketing strategies and campaign planning for businesses across various sectors, selling a range of services and products. Even in today’s ever changing technologically advanced landscape, customer engagement is still vital for success. 

Traditional engagement methods

Whilst brands may have decided to start moving away from traditional methods of customer engagement and embrace new methods, traditional methods can still be beneficial for some businesses. 

Typical traditional methods of customer engagement include:

  • Face to face interactions in physical stores, pop-ups and service centres
  • Telephone support via a traditional call centre 
  • Email exchanges between customers and customer service teams
  • Formal written communication via post
  • Feedback forms and surveys completed digitally or on paper

So what are the limitations of these traditional methods and why is evolution and in turn a customer engagement revolution necessary?

The biggest limitation of traditional customer engagement methods is the need for humans to be available and involved in every method. This causes a multitude of issues including:

  • Limited availability of customer service support as traditional methods are often restricted to business operating hours.
  • Consuming vast amounts of both customers and team members time as traditional methods often involve multi-step processes.
  • Difficulties personalising customer engagement at scale due to lack of customer data or knowledge.
  • Issues with tracking customer engagement journeys and analysing the journeys to make improvements to customer engagement experiences.

Enter conversational AI and chatbots, the solution to all of our customer engagement problems. Maybe…

The introduction of AI as a solution to customer engagement problems

In some cases, traditional methods will still be required but the technological advances made with conversational AI and chatbots have led to the development of new methods to engage with customers in dynamic, interactive and personalised ways. There are lots of benefits to utilising AI to solve issues created through the use of traditional customer engagement methods, but we will get to those a little later. First let’s explore what chatbots and conversational AI actually are. 

What is a chatbot?

A chatbot is simply a computer program that can be used to decipher customer questions. A chatbot then creates automated responses to those questions to resemble a conversation between two humans. There are a number of variations of chatbots that can be used to meet different business needs, here are four most commonly used by businesses: 

  • AI powered chatbots - these chatbots use a combination of AI and natural language processing to answer more complex customer queries and can even interpret the intent and sentiment of a customer query.
  • Rule based chatbots - the most basic form of chatbot. This chatbot was the first kind we saw used by businesses and operates on predefined rules and question trees. The chatbot follows the instructions given to it by developers and is a good option for answering basic information like FAQs and “how to” guides.
  • Voice assistants - everyone will have had an interaction with a voice assistant at some point (yes, even your grandparents - probably). Voice assistants include Alexa, Google Assistant and everyone’s favourite Siri. These chatbots use speech recognition and natural language understanding to interpret voice commands.  
  • Social media chatbots - these chatbots integrate with platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to provide customer support, assist with marketing campaign delivery and in some cases lead generation.

What is conversational AI?

Conversational AI uses AI technologies to simulate natural conversations between people and machines that are interactive. Conversational AI utilises technologies such as natural language processing, machine learning and deep learning to understand human queries and respond to them in a human-like tone. This AI simulates human conversations through gaining an understanding of intent, context and sentiment alongside human language understanding. 

Conversational AI can be used across multiple customer engagement mediums and can handle both text-based and voice-based interactions. They have also been designed to work at scale and continuously learn from previous interactions meaning the programmes can make constant tweaks and alterations to responses to make the conversation seem as natural as possible. The creation of conversational AI and the large improvements made to the quality of these systems in recent months makes conversational AI a great option for enhancing customer engagement.

Features and functionality of chatbots and conversational AI

There are lots of great features and functions that have been developed to make chatbots and conversational AI appealing to businesses looking to revolutionise customer engagement. Here are just a few:

  • Natural language processing advances make it easier for chatbots and AI to understand human intent resulting in better responses for the customer.
  • Unlike humans, most chatbots and AI systems can assist multiple customers at once whilst ensuring each interaction remains personalised.
  • These programmes can also work across multiple languages removing the need to employ teams of customer service professionals who speak the native language of each service area.
  • Chatbots and AI programmes have been designed to easily integrate with different CMS platforms and website back-ends to allow for better customer support and enhanced trackability of customer journeys. 
  • When utilising these tools businesses can gain better insight into customer engagement metrics and analytics to make continuous improvements to the process.

Where can chatbots and AI be used for customer engagement?

The number of uses for chatbots and AI in customer engagement is far too high for us to count so we have decided to highlight some of the most popular ways businesses can utilise these tools to enhance customer engagement.

  • Website chatbots - these popup chatbots are a great option for customer support without the need for any human interaction. They can often enhance a user’s website experience by answering simple questions, providing product recommendations or directing them to where they can find what they are looking for on your website.
  • Messaging platforms - this one is the answer to every customer service agent that works in social media and community management. The recent improvements to chatbots and AI mean they can now easily be integrated with social media and messaging platforms to allow for personalised customer service leaving you to focus on other aspects of your role or complex enquiries that still require the human touch.
  • Enhanced in-store experience - AI can also play a role in enhancing in-store customer experiences for customers, particularly through the use of voice assistants.

Benefits and limitations of chatbots and conversational AI for customer engagement

With all things there are always pros and cons, so let's explore some of the benefits and limitations that come with using these technologies for customer engagement.

Benefits of chatbots & AI for customer engagement 

Kicking off with the positives, here are just some of the benefits that come with choosing to use chatbots and conversational AI as part of your customer engagement strategy.

  • **Faster response times **- unlike traditional methods and humans, chatbots are available 24/7 to provide support to customers any time of the day or night. 
  • Increased efficiency - chatbots can handle large amounts of customer queries at once and quickly, saving customer service teams time and businesses money on admin costs.
  • Better customer satisfaction - with faster response times and accurate personalised responses, you’ll likely see your customer satisfaction metrics significantly increase.
  • Multi-channel integration - so some of your customers like to use your website for customer service and the others like Facebook? With chatbots that isn’t a problem as these tools integrate across multiple channels making customer service management quick and easy.
  • **Improved data insights **- chatbots and AI automatically collect customer data and insights providing businesses with greater insights into customer behaviour and trends whilst also empowering teams to make data driven decisions. 

Limitations of chatbots and AI

As with everything there are always some downsides to using chatbots and AI tools, so before diving head first, there are some limitations that are important to consider.

  • Language and cultural differences - yes, natural language processing and machine learning have enhanced AI’s understanding of language however it isn’t quite there yet in terms of understanding language and cultural nuances. There are still times where human intervention is required to ensure happy customers.
  • The ability to identify when to escalate - AI programmes also aren’t where they need to be yet in their ability to handle complex queries and know when to escalate them to a human customer service representative. Therefore if your business is one that receives a lot of complex queries, it might be best to stick to human customer service operatives for now. 
  • **Automation vs. human interaction **- it is a difficult balance to strike and as consumers are still new to the idea of automation and AI answering their problems, it is important to still have an aspect of human interaction in customer engagement processes. 
  • **Security **- customer security and the handling of data securely is of utmost importance and there are still some questions around just how secure AI platforms are. We recommend doing your research and ensuring you have processes in place to keep customer data secure. 

We know that was a lot of information to take it so to summarise - AI and chatbots have made significant progress in recent years and for many businesses will be a great addition to their customer engagement strategy. However, it is important to remember that these programmes might not be right for every business, they aren’t perfect and human interaction is definitely still required. 

If you’d like to learn more about AI, head to our AI information hub or if you’d like to speak to one of our team about how we can help increase your business’s online presence, get in touch.