Imagine two colleagues tasked with helping customers with enquiries. The first is a hard worker who is more than happy to answer queries 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They don’t take sick days, never need a break and do their honest best to help each and every customer. The only catch is they only know so much and refuse to evolve. Ask a question from a set list and they’ll nail it. Stray from the script though and they will flick the query to a more qualified workmate quicker than they can say: “I don’t understand.”
Then there is their fresh-faced colleague who is equally hard-working but committed to constant improvement. Not only can they facilitate more stimulating interactions with customers, they actually learn from each conversation and are constantly improving. They are more flexible and can jump from one topic to another, a stark contrast from their regimented workmate who is a stickler for rules and thus limited to pre-defined scripts.
Well, the former colleague is the tech equivalent of a traditional chatbot and the latter is powered by Conversational AI. They may do a similar job but one certainly does it more dynamically than the other.
There are essentially two types of chatbots – scripted chatbots and AI chatbots. The former is the early version of the technology, which can trace its roots to the 1960s when MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum designed a program that would pair the words that users entered in a computer with a list of possible scripted responses so people would feel like they were interacting with an empathic psychologist. He called his creation Eliza and today the world is home to endless scripted chatbots that are programmed to respond in pre-defined ways to specific questions. They are incredible tools that continue to prove hugely beneficial for many businesses but there is a catch - they fail when presented with a complex query or one not envisaged by the developers.
Conversational AI is the technology that is addressing that failure and enabling computers to simulate real conversations. Where traditional chatbots rely on pre-written scripts to respond to a limited set of simple queries, virtual agents or AI chatbots are powered by a ‘synthetic brain’ made up of different technologies working in unison to enable a machine to understand, process and respond to human language.
AI, of course, stands for artificial intelligence and it is the presence of that ‘intelligence’ that is taking chatbots to another level. While traditional chatbots are rule-based and follow a pre-determined conversational flow, Conversational AI, at its best, is the opposite. Components and features such as Natural Language Processing, Natural Language Understanding, Machine Learning and Predictive Analytics enable a more dynamic, less constrained user experience than chatbots.
Some of the most common examples of Conversational AI have become staples of everyday life. Digital assistants such as Cortana and Siri and so-called smart speakers such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home are used by millions of people across the globe and, according to one report, more than half of people who own a voice-activated speaker say it feels natural speaking to it and many believe it feels like talking to a friend. That familiarity is only possible due to Conversational AI and that is why ResearchAndMarket.com is predicting the global chatbot will almost quadruple from $2.6 billion in 2019 to an incredible $9.4 billion in 2024.
While there is a huge buzz surrounding the power of Conversational AI, there are still many features that make traditional chatbots a winner with businesses.
Conversational AI is undoubtedly a more powerful tool but that doesn’t mean the days of traditional chatbots are numbered. Many businesses, particularly smaller operations, will relish them as a more simple and cost-effective means of improving customer service. Then there are those companies that will appreciate that while it may take more time to set up and teach a Conversational AI system, the long-term rewards will come as it is fundamentally better at completing most requests.
The real key is to develop and deploy a chatbot strategy that works best for your organisation. For more insights into the ground-breaking technology, discover 10 Ways Chatbots Can Improve Customer Service with AI.