How chat- & voicebots are taking over the world and will change your business

December 21, 2018
Len Debets

The expectations chat- & voicebots in combination with Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are extremely high for the coming years. With investments in this industry already topping $24 billion, analysts, trend watchers and other experts are labelling these developments as the 'next best thing'. But what are they exactly? And how can they create value for your organisation? In this blog I explain the basics of chatbots and the different business applications you can use them for.

Consumers are already using applications like Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa to find information, play music or switch on their central heating. The business world has also been experimenting and developing these technologies for some years. Perhaps you recognise the automatic messages you get through web care, or sales assistants on e-commerce websites. Companies like KLM and Bol.com are constantly experimenting to optimise customer experience better. A recent demonstration of Google Assistant shows that the customer experience with a voicebot is indistinguishable from one with a human being.

According to Gartner’s 2018 CIO Survey, 38% of the businesses surveyed are experimenting with self-learning virtual assistants. And less than 4% of companies are actually rolling out conversational interfaces. 

But what are they exactly? And how can they create value for your organisation? In this blog I explain the basics of chatbots and the different business applications you can use them for. 

What are chatbots?

Put simply, chatbots are small pieces of software written specifically to answer a question in a conversational form. This means that as a user you can ask a question in everyday language to which a chatbot can reply in the same natural way that a human being would. By recognizing language use and sentence structure, the chatbot can pick up on a specific tone or emotion which is then reflected in the answer.

The chatbot can be deployed on different platforms, not just through chat or e-mail but also through speech recognition or avatars that you can see and hear. This can vary from 'single task' bots —for instance to inform you when your package will be delivered—through to complex chat- & voicebots that help you book your holiday. The ultimate aim of the chatbot is to take over the tasks now performed by people.

The concept of chatbots has been around for a few decades, but in the last 10 years big tech companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft have invested huge amounts to intensify development of the underlying technology. By combining chatbots with the latest developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), they've now propelled this technology to maturity. 

Download White paper The rise of Chatbots and virtual assistants

How do chatbots work?

The key challenge for chatbots is to understand the user’s intention, otherwise referred to as 'intents'. Chatbots can only give the right answer to your question if the computer also understands the context of the question. Trainable machine learning models allow chatbots to understand the difference between ‘I want a book for my birthday’ and ‘I want to book the trip now.

First and foremost the bots must understand the question. Most bots are also fed internal or external data to provide an answer to the user question. Before a bot can answer the question 'How many orders did my company sell yesterday?' it will need access to your company data. Setting up the dialogs and conversational structure that your company needs requires customisation. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. 

What’s the value-add for your business?

Answering questions from customers, managers and suppliers is a time-consuming task for employees in every organisation. Optimising some of these answers and insights through chatbots creates speed and efficiency. A question is only referred to an employee if the chatbot is unable to answer it. In this way you can make cost savings and use your staff more efficiently. Self-learning chatbots can be deployed in a dynamic and flexible way. Since they answer questions in a natural and consistent way, they are easier to interpret than standard dashboards. The fact that chatbots are specifically programmed to answer customer questions improves the user experience and boosts customer and employee satisfaction.

At KPMG we are developing a platform to help businesses deploy this technology rapidly. Learn more about this platform; digital advisor. Chat- & voicebots can add value to masses of cases in multiple settings. I will outline some of these cases in my next blog. If you have any questions or want to see how this technology can work for your organisation please contact us via this page.