The past decade or so has seen a number of notable changes to the world of customer service. For example, social networks like Facebook and Twitter have led to a new age of social customer service, where interactions between businesses and their customers are not only carried out online, but are also there for the whole world to see.

More recently still, the emergence of chatbots on apps such as Facebook Messenger, Kik, Telegram and WeChat has promised to change customer service once again, leading us into a new world of artificial intelligence. So what will the impact of chatbots be, and how will they effect things like customer service training in the UK and beyond?

Chatbots – What Are They?

Chatbots are essentially pieces of software that automate some of the customer service tasks that would usually be offered via telephone or email. They are an example of artificial intelligence, and interactions take place through ‘chatting’ to the bot, in much the same way you would usually do with a human through a messenger service.

Technology experts are already predicting that companies will go ‘all in’ on chatbot technology, with Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella insisting that “Chatbots are the new apps.” Meanwhile, according to projections from Gartner, 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed without a human by the year 2020.

Advantages of Chatbots

The potential uses of a chatbot are almost limitless. Indeed, it has been said that the only limitation is your own creativity. Already in heavy use in countries like China, chatbots are able to blend automation with a personalised customer experience, meaning customer spend less time waiting to be heard.

“It’s the beginning of the end of sitting on hold,” says Robert Stephens, co-founder of the bot messaging company Assist, in an interview with Retail Drive. “The beginning of the end of ‘Press one for this press to two for that.'” This is useful, because reducing customer wait times is often a key focus of customer service training courses.

Chatbots also offer businesses a major advantage in terms of their ease of use. While many older people are reluctant to use mobile apps, they will happily use messaging services, which have been a natural progression from text messaging and are widely used.

Research shows that people spend the majority of their mobile usage time on apps, but 80 percent of that time is spent on one of just three apps, meaning retail apps are unlikely to ever really cut through. Of those three preferred apps, however, ComScore found that one is almost always the person’s preferred messaging app.

Potential Drawbacks

With that being said, chatbots are not completely without their own issues. During the early testing phases, many companies have found problems with the way their chatbots communicate with customers, although this is something that can be addressed with time. In addition, several flaws within Artificial Intelligence (AI) bots have already been exploited.

Perhaps the most notable example came last year, when Microsoft introduced an AI bot called Tay. Unfortunately, the bot was quickly exploited by Twitter users, who were able to teach it to use racist phrases. This would appear to suggest that bots are not 100 percent ready to replace human customer service and courses in the UK should continue to prioritise a human touch as well.

Maintaining the Human Touch

One of the single biggest concerns regarding chatbots is the way they will impact upon the jobs of human colleagues. While, in the short term, most businesses seem to agree that the role of the chatbot is to serve alongside humans, in the long-term, there are fears that they will take human jobs away.

However, many chatbot developers believe that, in reality, chatbots will help to facilitate human work because chatbots can be used for some of the more mundane human tasks, such as scheduling meetings and helping customers to reset passwords. This will then free up human employees to work more closely with customers.

Therefore, the primary impact of chatbots on customer service will be in carrying out some of the easier tasks for humans. This means that, for instance, customer service courses can prioritise teaching staff how to tackle the more complicated interactions, that really require a more delicate human touch as well as soft skills such as communication for instance.

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