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In the early years of AI (Artificial Intelligence) research, it was proposed that a truly intelligent machine would be indistinguishable from a person in a text based conversation. While this theory was considered unrealistic during a time when the internet and mobile technologies didn’t mature, it is fast becoming reality in the form of chatbots.
A chatbot is basically a computer program driven by rules (in the case of scripted chatbots) and sometimes Artificial Intelligence (AI chatbots) that you communicate with through a chat interface. And thanks to innovations like Facebook Messenger, which launched its own bot platform, different industries can now create their own chatbots to streamline their sales processes and provide better services.
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Owing to their intelligent capabilities, chatbots can go a long way in reducing customer pain points in several industries. However, as we discussed in a previous post, one of AI’s biggest challenges are its limitations. And since the most effective bots are AI driven, they have limitations too.
So, do chatbots have a future in the larger scheme of things? A look at the benefits and limitations based on current adoptions gives a better idea about the potential of chatbots.
Virtual assistants like chatbots have shown potential in improving customer services. Business owners are seeing the benefits of using platforms, like Messenger, to create their own chatbots for providing a better experience to their customers. Here is a general breakdown of the uses and limitations:
With chatbots built right inside messaging interfaces, customers don’t have to interrupt their messaging activities to have an issue handled. For example, Facebook Messenger’s chatbot from 1-800flowers.com, allows customers to order bouquets of their choice and receive an estimated time of delivery without talking to an actual customer representative at the other end.
While chatbots can make for more gratifying customer experiences, they currently lack the intelligent faculties necessary to replace human expertise. This limits their ability to perform certain tasks. As a result, chatbots can’t really replace customer representatives who possess the predictive and intuitive faculties to offer more diverse assistance to customers. For example, if a customer has needs that are more complex than a standard order status (like a query about returning several different items) a more analytical approach is required than an approach that is only limited to predetermined automated responses.
Chatbots have also made services more accessible for patients in healthcare and made it easier for health professionals to drive diagnostic processes. However as mentioned, a virtual assistant’s capabilities has a cap. Here are some use cases that explain these points better:
Every medical specialist, from ENTs to heart surgeons, adopts a consultative approach with patients. At every visit, patients have to give some time to pre-consultation paperwork. With the help of chatbots, the time spent can be reduced. For example, one digital health startup has an app with a chatbot that asks first time visitors a series of questions (about health complaints, age and gender) before filling this information in their user profiles. This saves an immense amount of time for patients and speeds up this administrative task.
You will always get an answer when you ask a chatbot a question; there is no doubting it. But will the answer always be correct? In healthcare, inaccurate medical advice can endanger patients and compromise the integrity of health institutions. For example, only a real ENT specialist can identify the severity of the throat’s condition on physical inspection and prescribe the correct dosage for a prescription. In such cases, where something physical needs to be analyzed before a condition is diagnosed, you can’t really rely on a chatbot to give you an accurate analysis.
Financial institutions have turned to the predictive capabilities of AI driven chatbots to streamline some of their key processes. Yet again, this too has some pros and some limitations:
The virtual assistants have made it easier for some banking institutions to provide financial advice without requiring customers to visit in person. For example, one bank has a chatbot that monitors an account holder’s bank balance and uses AI and predictive analysis to recommend financial services.
Making an intelligent UI work for complex situations in certain financial institutions is tricky. A chatbot built for an insurance agency, for example, probably won’t be able to help the user figure out legal loopholes that can get an appeal for a rejected insurance claim accepted.
The future of chatbots lies in its ability to learn from conversations to offer experiences that are close to real human experiences. Chatbot solutions are still maturing but they are already entering the mainstream and reaping benefits in areas like online marketing, digital healthcare, finance and customer service. Many believe that their intelligence and predictive capabilities, if refined further, can be adapted to drive more complex processes in other industries.
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