Four out of five businesses will use chatbots by 2020, 85% of all customer interactions will be handled by them and they will generate $600bn in revenue in the same year, according to a recent Oracle survey. This week Chris Crombie, Product Manager at Engage Hub, believes now may well be the best time to start investing in chatbots.

In just under two years’ time, chatbots – conversation-mimicking computer programmes that provide your customers with an instant, personalised response – will be ubiquitous. Driven by innovation in artificial intelligence (AI) and the insatiable desire to enhance and personalise the customer experience.

Simply put, chatbots are one of the clearest concrete examples of how the “AI revolution” is impacting on the business landscape and on the day-to-day lives of millions of consumers worldwide.

Consumers happy to chat to bots

Consumer familiarity with chatbots has increased over the last decade, a result of our familiarity with things such as self-service machines in supermarkets and interactive IVR.

With the latest advances in AI technology pushing new boundaries, it’s easy to see why many are claiming that 2018 is set to be “the year of the chatbot”.

That’s because, for any company that has an interest in offering a great customer experience, the potential benefits of enhancing customer satisfaction and responding to customer’s needs in a faster and more efficient manner by using chatbots are immense.

Plus, new messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat and traditional SMS are proliferating, which means millions of new opportunities to reach customers and communicate with them using the communications channels they utilise and like the most.

Understanding innovation in AI, Machine Learning and NLP

To understand the latest chatbot innovations, it’s necessary to have an understanding of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing (NLP).

Artificial intelligence is the theory and development of computing technologies that can perform tasks that previously required human intelligence. Mainly relating to speech recognition, visual perception, decision-making or language translation.

As an extension of this, Machine Learning is the application of AI technologies in ways that use data to learn and improve automatically, without being given explicit instructions. While NLP is the branch of AI that helps computers understand human language as it’s spoken and written to be able to understand intent.

The computer chatbot uses AI and NLP to imitate human conversation, through voice and/or text. So, in addition to the above-mentioned text-based instant messaging systems, voice-controlled chatbots are becoming increasingly popular, both in the home and in business contexts.

Amazon Alexa, for example, has proven to be an immensely useful consumer technology over the last two years in terms of its educational benefits, teaching consumers about the ease-of-use of voice controlled tech and helping them to feel comfortable and happy using it.

Test chatbots properly, to boost business

So that’s a brief overview of the key technologies and the commonly-used acronyms behind chatbots. Yet the key thing you need to know if this: when implemented correctly, chatbots are a demonstrably fantastic way to increase engagement with your customers.

So, what’s the secret of rolling out chatbots in a way that resonates well with your customers and doesn’t risk you losing sales?

As with any new technology, rigorously test it out internally before you let your customers start to use it. This is particularly critical with chatbot applications, as the bot will start to learn from your team, which helps to ensure that it knows how to deal with a wide range of the most common customer questions, complaints and enquiries.

Thorough testing will ensure your chatbots work as efficiently as possible, giving the correct information to customers as rapidly as they demand it.

All of which means that you will gain a clear competitive advantage, future-proofing your business by improving the customer experience whilst also delivering operational excellence.

Connecting you to your customers 24/7

Businesses in all verticals, particularly finance, retail and logistics, and businesses of all sizes – from small start-ups through to global enterprise – need to be investing in the latest chatbot technologies in 2018 to stay ahead of the curve.

And in today’s market, enhancing the customer experience is all about providing a high quality ‘always on’ service to deliver the information that they need, on demand, 24/7.