The Chatbot Revolution is Here

When, in seventh grade, I finally had my very first AOL email account, I was quickly pulled into the world of AIM messenger. (I also created an embarrassing pun-based username that I still actively spend hours trying to forget.) Sure, I’d message my friends and work up the nerve to ping my middle school crush during the few riveting moments his screen name popped up online, but one of the best parts of AIM messenger was SmarterChild, the AI chatbot that knew the answers to any question I could think of, and even had a personality.

SmarterChild chatbot

Chatbots are not a new invention, and in 2018, they’re everywhere. There are chatbot boyfriends, therapists, and a even a chatbot politician running for office in New Zealand, hoping to represent the country in 2020.

For businesses, chatbots open up a world of customer service possibilities. They help customers leave feedback, schedule appointments, and order products quicker. Some bots already live in messaging apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, and while they might not offer as much conversation as SmarterChild, they can help you book a cab or order your favorite Starbucks drink. Evocreative predicts that 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed by chatbots by 2020. This stat strikes me as a little high, but I don’t discount the larger implication here: The way we experience customer service is changing rapidly.

What’s spurred the branded chatbot takeover? Mutual benefits for brands and customers. Retale recently surveyed U.S. millennial adult consumers, and 70 percent said they had a positive experience with chatbots in the past. And almost half of all U.S. consumers said they’d prefer to handle customer service interactions via some sort of messenger.

millennial chatbot survey

In many cases, companies will implement partial chatbot experiences. Sephora, for example, rolled out a chatbot last summer that can handle the beginning of a customer interaction on its own. People can schedule appointments or leave feedback through the bot, but it has to connect users to a human representative if it can’t address a customer’s questions.

Personally, I’m embracing the rise of the bots. Email and phone-based customer service interactions are often frustrating and full of terrible elevator music. I’m at least curious to see if bots can actually offer streamlined solutions to these woes. I also secretly hope that one day I’ll come across SmarterChild again, just to see another philosophical musing at the end of our interaction.

Image by iStockphoto

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