By Tom Castle.

The chatbot industry is growing. Chatbots are computer programmes that hold conversations with humans via either voice or text using artificial intelligence. The number of these ‘bots’ is growing at an increasing rate with bigger companies such as Apple and Amazon focusing on generalist bots which aim to complete the first step of a multi-step process. These generalist bots then move onto specialist bots which then complete the necessary task. For example, if you wanted to order an Uber, you would ask Siri first which would then link you to the Uber app/bot in order for the task to be completed.

While big brands are using bots as personal assistants, other companies are using chatbots to improve customer service. RBS recently released Luvo which will ‘free advisors from spending time on simple, easily addressed queries’ by helping around 10% of the bank’s customers on tasks such as lost pins and corporate cards. IBM believe that as the cognitive system learns, capabilities can be stretched, but with this comes the security risk and in a society where consumer confidence is key is it worth risking chatbots over the trust of your customers?

Chatbots are not only emerging in customer service but also in retail with companies such as H&M developing a chatbot on Kik messenger. Rated 5* on ‘Bot hub reviews’ it is clearly a clever app that works. The implications of the app will surely lead to increased sales due to the integration with the H&M website; a customer who likes an outfit can immediately purchase it. Having used the chatbot ourselves, we found it easy to use and quick, however, after a couple of minutes of declining suggested outfits, the chatbot broke saying it would be fixed later on that day.

There is no doubt that chatbots are getting cleverer and cleverer, however, Microsoft’s Tay has shown that despite the advanced software, human involvement is still required. Tay self-taught itself to discuss sensitive topics after users tried to abuse the coding. Currently it may be that a human and AI interaction is required to yield the best results, such as a hybrid system. Digital Genius allows a computer to generate the reply in response to the question and produce a confidence level. A live agent can set the required level of confidence for an automated send and then anything below this a human must either approve or ‘personalise.’

Will chat apps usage continue to increase? There is no doubt that this increase will accelerate as confidence increases and companies try to cut costs. RBS started developing Luvo when they were cutting costs and in the future other banks will follow suit. In the past, it was cheaper for call centres to be outsourced to developing countries.  But today are there any countries offering customer contact services cheaper in the long run than coding within software?