Bots and Artificial Intelligence are trending topics and it seems everyone wants to have one, but what does embarking on this technology journey really mean? Some brands have already begun using bots & artificial intelligence to help them improve their customer service efforts, while others are trying to decide if it’s a fad or a sustained competitive advantage. With the rising excitement and hype surrounding these topics, I thought it would be fun to address a few myths that foster skepticism and increase confusion. In this post, I’ll debunk 3 common misconceptions I hear about bots & artificial intelligence (AI).

Myth: Bots and AI are the same thing

Truth: Bots are NOT AI & AI is NOT a bot

If you’re just learning about bots and artificial intelligence, it’s easy to confuse the two. However, bots and AI have some fundamental differences. Let’s break it down:

Bots enable the automation of known outcomes and work streams. In other words, a bot completes a specific task without the intervention of a human being. For instance, in customer service, after resolving a series of items, an agent may transfer a customer to a “payment” microbot to complete a transaction, yet the customer may never experience the transition between the two. In this case the bot and human worked together to improve a customer’s experience, which is always the goal. However, the bot simply performed a workflow with a known outcome: payment complete!

Bots are often categorized as:

MacroBots: Think of this as the bot that boils the ocean. Some companies have contemplated a single bot that serves it’s digital customers in completing numerous tasks.

Interactive Response Bots: This type of bot is like moving through an interactive voice response call, but in a messaging application. The set of questions are fixed and the bot can handle answers if the customer does not deviate from the script.

MicroBots: A bot like this will help a consumer and agent complete a simple workflow like taking payment, as described above, or placing an order or sharing a ticket confirmation number. In theory, brands will build several simple microbots to perform a series of varied tasks that take a human’s time away from responding to complex issues. The beauty in these bots is that they’re easy to update. The elegance is in the design to transition the conversation from the agent to the bot and back to the agent without the consumer noticing a change in the experience.

Completely separate from bots is artificial intelligence. AI is a machine or series of processes capable of “thought” that can learn and execute a task in a similar fashion as a human being. Furthermore, if the original execution of the task had flaws, an intelligent machine can learn from the flaw and course correct when a similar circumstance arises in the future if good examples are shown, tested, and refined.

Example: Let’s say a customer service team encounters a similar help request from numerous customers every day. By implementing a dynamic knowledge base powered by an artificial intelligence engine, the system could suggest optimal responses to an agent. This saves the agent precious time related to research, energy spent typing the same response and improves accuracy, which results in exceptional customer experiences. In time, the intelligent machine could automatically respond without the intervention of an agent to a common help-related question, leaving an agent free to handle complex issues that require the delicate and compassionate touch of a friendly hand.

Myth: AI and bots can and will replace human customer service agents

Truth: Neither AI nor Bots will replace customer service agents (and even if they could it would be a bad idea if a brand wants to provide exceptional customer care)

Some futurists predict that artificial intelligence will displace the need for human workers. The issue with this sentiment is that it implies AI and bots will have emotions. However, emotions are the result of instinctive drives in human beings toward the reward of pleasure or the absence of pain. Neither of which can inherently be programmed into a machine.

Nevertheless, there are nuances to how bots and AI can be designed to imitate emotional experiences. As brands experiment with AI and bots, they often leverage human consciousness and emotion in their design. They create experiences that can support how a customer service agent delivers effortless service through modern communication channels. The ability to design bots or AI in this fashion is critical. Brands may choose to equip agents with technology that improves productivity, speed, and accuracy in both handling and resolving consumers’ requests. Both bots and AI can be designed to reflect the brand’s personality and charm. Additionally, they can support effective agent training strategies without sacrificing the 1:1 interaction modern consumers have come to demand. Now that’s a sustainable competitive advantage.

Myth: You can buy first and design later

Truth: By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

While Benjamin Franklin said this in the 18th century, the adage holds true today and is especially important when deciding when to dive into the world of AI and/or bots. The investment of time and money into this technology is significant, so ensuring that your company is prepared to take the plunge is essential to your success. Here’s my framework for preparing for a future with bots and AI:

The three C’s of readiness

Create: Begin with the customer experience you want to deliver. Too often, brands say they want new technology before understanding why! The best place to begin is by putting your customers’ needs in the center. The key to the creation phase lies at the heart of well-defined, customer specific use cases. By exploring what your customers need, how they want to interact, what tasks are most important for them to complete seamlessly, you can decide if starting with bots with a goal to transition to a learning machine is best or if diving into artificially intelligent technology is the right investment now.

Cleanse: It’s important to know what information is most relevant to the use cases you’ve designed during the Create Phase. The human race is no stranger to making the simple more complex and the modern enterprise is no different. Therefore, a thorough evaluation of the information you have readily accessible must be the first priority. Once, you understand what information you have, the next step is to understand what gaps exist, what data must be dug out of dark technology corners, and what must be supplemented by outside sources. The key to understanding what information is relevant is to continuously refer to your use cases and ensure that your design centers on your customer and provides your agents with a technology that allows them to deliver effortless service, every time. This process takes time and may highlight the need to revisit your use cases. Some customers move between Create and Cleanse several times before moving forward, don’t get discouraged.

Collaborate: Developing and deploying bots and AI that support your agents is a team effort. The team will be integral in the design, development, training, and deployment. The team will consist of the AI or bot partner you choose, your technology and data teams, your customer service agents, and even friends and family who will attempt to test and “break” your prototypes to help make your solution better. When choosing a technology partner it’s important to evaluate a partner who can deliver the bot or the AI technology. It is equally important that they truly understand customer service in the modern age of communication and can design the experience to reflect the best of what we love when we engage a knowledgeable agent. Removing this heavy lifting from your internal team can save significant time and money.

Now that you know the truth about bots & artificial intelligence I hope you spread the word!  And if you’re still interested in learning how your brand can leverage these technologies for customer service, Sparkcentral would love to help you get started with that. Let’s chat!