Why Chatbots Often Aren’t Smart Enough

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Even the most sophisticated virtual assistants need access to the right information organized in the right way – otherwise the customer experience will prove frustrating, say experts at Earley Information Science roundtable

Earley Executive Roundtable Delivers Valuable Insights on Digital Transformation

Earley Executive Roundtable Delivers Valuable Insights on Digital Transformation

if a task proves to be too complex, hand it off to a human – with the bot serving as a partner by providing support where it can

Companies of all kinds are deploying armies of chatbots and other virtual assistants to provide support for existing customers and to attract new ones. But even as the software that powers these assistants gets more and more sophisticated, the customer’s experience will not improve and will in fact suffer if the information needed for the “chats” remains incomplete, inappropriate or not readily accessible.

In short, the touted potential of artificial intelligence (AI) will be compromised if care isn’t taken to do the preliminary work of organizing the information properly, according to a panel of knowledge management experts who participated in an Executive Roundtable discussion hosted on Jan. 18 by Earley Information Science Corp. (EIS), a leading consulting firm focused on digital transformation. Otherwise, the interactions will be just the latest example of “garbage in, garbage out,” the experts agreed, suggesting approaches and processes to avoid that outcome.

“Chatbots are a channel, whether they take the form of an avatar or a chat interface, and their function is to serve as an access point to information,” said one of the experts, Seth Earley, Chief Executive Officer and founder of EIS. To function successfully, he said, “chatbots have to sit on top of a repository of content that is specifically structured to support the tasks in question.” And they also need retrieval mechanisms that will allow them to quickly find and serve up the relevant slices of that content, he added.

The discussion, “Virtual Assistants & Chatbots: The Next Big Thing in Customer Experience,” was led by David Hatch, Senior Vice President for marketing at EIS. Besides Mr. Earley, the panel included Dan Miller, Lead Analyst and Founder of Opus Research; Henry Truong, Chief Technology Officer at TeleTech Holdings; and Sumeet Vij, Chief Technologist specializing in data science and AI at Booz Allen Hamilton, the consulting firm.

Another issue, Earley noted, is to recognize that AI, despite all that it can do, is still in its relative infancy, and a company has to be careful not to ask it to perform beyond its current abilities. Train chatbots to handle simpler tasks and processes, he cautioned, those that are repeatable, structured and unambiguous. Monitor call centers and study the transcripts of “live” agents to identify those simpler tasks and processes. And if a task proves to be too complex, hand it off to a human – with the bot serving as a partner by providing support where it can.

Opus Research’s Dan Miller described the broad spectrum of roles and tasks that intelligent assistants now handle – from making homes and cars “conversational” and acting as virtual travel, wellness or financial advisors to support, sales and scheduling for enterprise customers and employees.

TeleTech’s Henry Truong discussed new approaches to building smarter solutions for customer care. Capitalizing on advances in “automation maturity,” these approaches produce more business value as they move from information-based learning to probability-based learning and eventually cognitive learning.

The strategic goal, Truong said, is to develop partnerships in which digital workers simplify the tasks, allowing human workers to engage with customers in deeper ways.

Such partnerships are acutely needed in the government sector, said Booz Allen’s Sumeet Vij, who described the growing service shortfall at such resource-strained agencies of the federal government as the Internal Revenue Service. Deployed well, chatbots would help these agencies “leap frog” their way to much better levels of service.

One dividend, Vij said, is to use the bots to capture institutional knowledge, enabling future employees to learn from the “collective intelligence” of past and current employees.

The roundtable featured a real-time survey of the webinar attendees, including these results:

  •     A quarter of the respondents said that chatbots are a major priority of their business, having won funding and executive buy-in. But nearly half, or 47%, said that bots, while important, still require a business case. And more than a quarter (28%) said that they are not a priority.
  •     More than half, or 51%, said that they are just starting to investigate the use of virtual assistants at their companies, with another 20% in an early stage of internal testing.
  •     As for the areas in which chatbots are being employed, with respondents allowed to pick more than one area, the top three answers were customer/member service (43%), technical support (19%) and the selling process (14%). “Nowhere yet” was chosen by 40%.

Please use this link to access the roundtable. To learn more about practical applications of virtual assistants and AI, see this list of suggested resources.

About Earley Information Science: EIS helps organizations establish a strong information architecture and management foundation to drive strategic business outcomes and enhance operational performance. EIS has more than 20 years of experience in working with Fortune 1000 organizations globally across many industries. Corporate headquarters are in the Boston metropolitan area with consultants working on projects around the world. For more about Earley Information Science, visit our website at http://www.earley.com or contact us at info(at)earley(dot)com.

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