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As today’s brands rightly focus on improving customer experience (CX), many are choosing to incorporate AI, or some form of automation, into their daily customer interactions. In today’s ‘age of the customer’, when your customers are using multiple channels to interact with your brand, are spending more and have access to more information about your brand than ever before; connection, accessibility and information have become business critical and central to a customer journey.

As the number of channels and contact points we have with our customers grows, so does the challenge of being able to serve customers in a way that they feel happy and comfortable with. Consumer demand for optimal, omnichannel CX has risen, so businesses are faced with multiple demands, not least on their availability and their ability to provide 24/7 support. But also how quickly and efficiently they can respond to enquiries. Businesses need a solution to meet those challenges, and many have embraced chat as the ideal channel of communication.

We all need to recognize that our customers’ time is valuable and that they don’t have time to hunt around for an answer to their question. Therefore we must invest in technologies that will save them time. Accessibility has become a key differentiator. Everyone hates waiting and none of us is getting any more time any time soon. Especially not the time to talk to banks and insurance companies.

The problem with many company websites is that they can often contain too much information while attempting to serve multiple purposes – branding, sales, marketing, lead generation, newsrooms. As a result, our customers are also determining which channels they want to interact with us on, increasing the need to provide a consistent, omnichannel experience, which, in many ways, explains the rise in popularity of technologies like chatbots and virtual agents.

The financial sector, in particular, has a clear and present need to revitalize how they interact with their customers. DNB, one of the largest banks in Europe, have several thousand online conversations with their customers every day. By adopting conversational AI and building a virtual banking agent, Aino, the bank has automated 100 per cent of their frontline customer support and saw a 50 per cent drop in traffic to live chat, in just 6 months. Overall, DNB saw 17 per cent fewer customer interactions that required human support.

Differences between chatbots and conversational AI

DNB’s results stand-out, but it is important for brands to understand the differences between chatbots and conversational, AI-powered, virtual agents, before they choose which sort of technology is right for them. Relying solely on automation to handle all customer service interactions is also risky, and it is critical that brands strike the right balance between automation and human interactions.

In simple terms, chatbots are automated or pre-programmed customer facing interfaces, which are deployed over various messaging platforms. Chatbots are a great fit for many brands, particularly if they are automating basic tasks. However, it is important to remember that chatbots are also fairly limited. Many chatbots are rules-based and contain no real AI/ML, so when it comes to customer interaction at an enterprise scale, many chatbots are found lacking.

Conversely, conversational AI enables people to talk to machines with natural language. Conversational AI has many applications, but the most common is to interact with customers through a chat window. So, where the scope of chatbots is rules-based and predefined, conversational agents are powered by real intelligence and customer data.

Conversational, AI-powered, virtual agents are also capable of learning and expanding their knowledge base, so not only can they advise your customers, they can also perform tasks on their behalf. Recent advances in cloud services and heavy machine power through graphic processing units (GPUs) have made it possible to train the deep learning algorithms, which conversational AI and a true AI-based virtual agent relies on.

All bots are not created equal

Over the last year, there have been several examples of businesses transitioning from their existing, ineffective chatbot solution to a new vendor offering true conversational AI. The market is flooded with chatbot vendors, making it a difficult landscape to navigate, and it’s only when businesses need to scale up that they begin identifying the vendors that can cope at an enterprise level. Being able to handle 80% of incoming inquiries, as opposed to 40%, brings huge benefits, not only in terms of user experience, but potential savings and future revenue. As a result, I believe we will see many more companies evaluating their existing technology, and either choosing to opt out entirely or find a more profitable replacement.

Conversational AI gives people more time by changing how customers interact with companies, by giving them the availability, accuracy and personalization that they expect in 2019.  As explained, everyone hates waiting and none of us are getting any more time, any time soon. Especially not the time to talk to banks and insurance companies. By letting conversational artificial intelligence – in the form of a virtual agent – handle 100 percent of online customer interactions, it either resolves enquiries on the spot, or seamlessly forwards them to human agents.

Conversational AI has achieved a breakthrough now, where we are starting to see some very exciting results after several disappointing years of implementing chatbots and limited technology. By adding Conversational AI and voice technology on top of a virtual agent, businesses are looking at a future with a much simpler interface, and that has the potential to change customer experience completely.


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