The Rise and Rise of Chatbots
…and how they can help UK Councils to achieve Digital Transformation
According to analyst firm Gartner, the usage of Chatbots (called virtual customer assistants by Gartner) will triple through 2019 as enterprises seek to increase customer satisfaction and reduce operating costs.
Source: “Seven Decision Points for Success with Virtual Customer Assistants,” Gartner, July 26, 2016.
By 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise with out interacting with a human.”
Source: Gartner Predicts, 2016
By 2021, there will be an estimated 1.8 billion unique, active consumer Chatbot users.
Source: Virtual Digital Assistants: Virtual Agents, Chatbots, Utilizing Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing, and Conversational User Interfaces. Tractica, L.L.C. 2016
How chat has evolved… and grown
Since its introduction only 20 years ago, texting quickly became a hugely popular communication channel, but how fast times change in the world of mobile communications. Figures from U.K. Communications Regulator Ofcom showed that 48 billion fewer text messages were sent in the UK in 2015 than in 2011 as tech savvy Brits turned to free messaging services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
The gap continues to grow and a recent survey by TSYS found that 58% of UK residents now use mobile messaging apps. In June 2016 a Reuters article showed that Facebook Messenger had joined WhatsApp in having one billion active users making them the world’s most popular messaging apps followed by Skype with 300 million users. The article also stated 18,000 Chatbots had been launched on Messenger. In response, mobile phone operators are increasingly offering unlimited data as well as texts as part of their packages.
The popularity of messaging is at an all-time high, even overtaking the juggernaut that is social media:
Not only are people using messaging apps more than social networks, messaging is proving to be far more “sticky” than traditional apps. According to The Economist, a quarter of all downloaded apps are abandoned after a single use…with the exception of instant messaging. Over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed.3 This number is expected to climb to 3.6 billion within a few years according to Activate.
“My mum won’t use apps or websites, but she does use WhatsApp to keep in touch as it is so easy and conversational.”
People are also spending more time in messaging apps than the social networks. For example, WhatsApp users average nearly 200 minutes each week using the service.
Every morning hundreds of millions of people start their day by logging into their favourite social network or messaging app or talking to Alexa, Siri, Cortana or Google Home.
Your customers are using chat to communicate with each other………….
so why not offer to communicate with you through chat as well?
But before taking the plunge, a little perspective is important. A massive surge of new platforms, developers and organisations are now promising bots will solve all your communications needs. But recently, the Information that AI bots were experiencing a 70% rate, with only 30% of requests being resolved without human assistance flashed big warning signs that we are only at the very start of harnessing the undoubted power and potential of this exciting new technology.
So what does this news mean for the public sector – and how can local government decide what best suits their needs?
The Inform approach to creating the perfect Council Chatbot (It’s all in the DOE – Design of Experiments!)
Inform has over 30 years experience in helping UK councils to enable their customers to self-serve across multiple channels 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via its range of Inform services. During that time it has gained a deep knowledge and understanding of the wide range of questions and tasks that residents need to ask or perform when communicating with their council.
The fact is these questions follow the same format and require the same logic to resolve regardless of the chosen channel or device the customer wishes to use. Inform has therefore used its experience to create a vast central knowledge base of information that is used to answer and respond to millions of telephone, email, SMS and mobile-web enquiries every year.
Inform is now using this same knowledge base to create Chabots that can be used across web-chat, SMS, Facebook Messenger and Twitter channels. This is true ‘Omni-Channel’ service in action and Inform can provide clients with a huge head start (and peace of mind) when launching any new self-serve channel – especially in the brave new world of Chatbots.
We use the same logic and understanding of the customer journey to create successful Chatbots as we do for all our other Telephony, email and mobile-web services. At the heart of our design process is DOE – the methodology we use to test all the variables of designing a user experience, and using the results to aid in decision making. DOE takes all the guesswork out of designing automated services because the feedback you get tells you what works best. Our research shows that our DOE approach can increase enquiry resolution and customer engagement by as much as 35%.
“The difficulty in building a Chatbot is less of a technical one and more an issue of user experience. The most successful bots will be the ones that users want to come back to regularly and that provide consistent value.” — Matt Hartman, Director of Seed Investments at Betaworks
In addition to general design elements, there are all the elements of the chat experience itself. For example, what dimensions should the chat window be? What clickable elements should it include? How much text should be viewable in a window? How long should the input field be? These are all variables that can be tested and optimized. The same considerations need to be applied to the smartphone environment. Creating elegant experiences in limited screen real estate is always a challenge that requires forethought and planning.
The key with Chatbots in particular is defining the scope of the services and the range of ‘intents’ they are to cover. Like all our services, it is vital to predict and plot the customer journey and provide the shortest and easiest route to resolution. But the key differentiator with Chatbots is the ability to use Natural Language Understanding (NLU), Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to continually improve performance by identifying and filling knowledge gaps.
Almost unlimited compatibility with API’s means that our Chatbots can interrogate and integrate with your front and back office systems. This means that they can provide answers to a wide range of FAQ’s such as balance enquires, bin collection days, scheduling/changing appointments and service charges etc. whilst also feeding in data about house moves, changes in circumstance, permit applications etc. Where you have your own digital forms we can link users directly to these or we can create a range of forms for you.
The result is a bespoke range of ready-made Chatbots covering all council service areas that we can then customise to meet your exact requirements.
“Bots are becoming part of our everyday working lives. We see bots scheduling meetings, helping salespeople access CRM information, managing to-dos, reporting on key business metrics and more,” says Slack’s Head of Developer Relations, Amir Shevat