Did you know that the world’s first chatbot was developed in the mid-1960s? The program, named ELIZA, was developed by Joseph Weizenbaum and operated by parsing user responses to scripts in order to impersonate a human – most notably a psychotherapist. Since then, ELIZA has retired from the world of psychology and has begun a different career path — customer service. Howard Williams, marketing director of digital engagement expert Parker Software, assesses the career prospects of chatbots.
There’s been a significant amount of interest in the use of chatbots recently. More and more businesses are experimenting with these programs as a way of communicating with their customers, using them to respond to queries at all times of day without staffing costs.
Most recently, Facebook announced it would be introducing tools for businesses to build their own chatbots to deliver information to their social media audience. The specific roles these bots will complete depends entirely on their programming — which could be anything from delivering a weather report on request to suggesting news stories based on browsing history.
Astute readers will recognise that those two tasks are not only simple processes, but ones that are already largely automated. In fact, iPhone users can complete both by swiping down and right respectively. This is the fundamental problem with chatbots: they are simply automation software packaged as a customer service revolution.
Business automation software offers companies the capability to streamline processes and allow workforces to operate more efficiently, but it must not be confused with chat software. While the two can complement each other, blurring the lines between them can lead businesses to miss valuable opportunities to deliver outstanding customer service. This can only be achieved with the human touch.
A chatbot’s function is to deliver what the customer requests. This may be a very literal definition of customer service, but professionals will know there is much more to it than that.
ELIZA’s developer himself acknowledged that artificial intelligence is “a reduction of the human being”, meaning it is unable to comprehensively grasp the subtleties of communication. It is precisely this that makes chatbots an ineffective customer service solution — what a customer asks for is not necessarily what they need and ascertaining that requires a true capacity for understanding conversation.
Instead of automating chat itself, it is far more effective to automate the processes that allow communication between customers and representatives. In using live chat software for customer service, site visitors get the information and advice they need in real time from a friendly and knowledgeable source. Furthermore, live chat offers a truly human experience.
Businesses seeking a quick solution to customer service may turn to chatbots, but this is not a path to success. Just as you wouldn’t trust ELIZA to properly analyse your mental state, customer-facing roles are better left to humans.