Conversational in 2021: the trends for voice and chatbots
The conversational AI market is booming, with forecasted growth from 4.8 billion to 13.9 billion over the next 5 years. Gartner research shows that in 2021 no less than 15% of customer service interactions will take place via AI. In 2022 this will be as high as 70%! Does this mean that human factors will become subordinate to new technology and AI? Certainly not! With input from AI experts Hans van Dam and Christine Liebrecht I will elaborate on 3 trends that illustrate why a successful application of conversational (nowadays) mainly has to do with human factors.
And one more thing
COVID-19 affects us all, from consumers to organisations. In this context, it doesn’t necessarily lead to new trends, but to accelerated digitisation and digital transformation. At the same time, convenience and reliability are, more than ever, crucial customer conditions for success, and the need for accessible, fast and personal experiences with organisations is continually increasing. (State of the Connected Customer, Salesforce)
Trend 1. Digital where possible, people where necessary
The use of chatbots and voice assistants in 2025 won’t be about making as many experiences conversational as possible, but about a synchronised effort of digital support and human contact. More than ever, bots will take over simple interactions or processes, both bot-only and in conjunction with human service experts. The choice for the best approach will be made more and more on the basis of data, vision and customer feedback.
Practice shows that organizations are learning better where and when a conversational approach works best. Not every use case requires a warm chatbot dialogue, sometimes other channels, such as the “my environment” or (web) content, offer a better solution for a customer question. Take pricing for example. This is much more easily comprehensible via a web page than via a chatbot.
Bots provide insight for a 360-degree customer view
In addition, we are also increasingly seeing a role for bots “behind the scenes”, in particular due to the data and insights that arise from contact with the customer. A conversation through a hybrid approach of both people and chatbot provides insights for organisations to sharpen their 360-degree customer view. It better teaches organisations how the total journey of the customer is going and what their needs are. These insights can be used to continuously improve how you communicate with customers.
Trend 2. Next-level bots are increasingly becoming part of business processes
One of the conversational trends I wrote about last year was about the broad application of bots within business processes. The main application of chatbots is (still) relatively simple: getting an answer (source: Drift).
Where, when and how the path to that answer goes is constantly evolving. After all, bots are available 24/7, suitable for any kind of contact channel and are increasingly intertwined with a wide range of (internal) systems through technical integrations.
Today, more and more top Dutch companies are integrating bots with the goal of optimizing different business processes. For example, PostNL integrated an internal chatbot in the app for its employees, RTL provides their customers with answers from an integrated knowledge base and Erasmus University’s chatbot always knows what the latest college tuition rates are.
More transactional functionalities
Hans van Dam, CEO of the Conversation Design Institute, also sees it: “We are moving toward level 3 AI Assistants that are integrated better with the backend and get more transactional functionalities. In this way, companies will actually unlock value and investments in conversational AI will increase. For voice, there’s a lot of focus on conversational commerce, such as in the US, where handovers from TV to Amazon Alexa are used for viewing and buying products directly”.
The development of smart bots is also becoming more and more accessible, including for SMEs. Development platforms increasingly offer no-code or low-code options in order to work with bots cost-effectively, intended for performing a number of simple tasks. However, there’s also the danger of customer frustration if the bots are not set up from a customer perspective.
Trend 3. Successful bots-use is steadily increasing
Will bots be used more often in an effective and efficient way in the coming period? “The successful deployment of bots is on the rise, provided it is precisely tailored to the experience of customers and employees”, says Christine Liebrecht, University Professor of Communications and Information Sciences, Tilburg University.
She is researching the Responsible Use of AI with a consortium of researchers and partners from the business world. “The need for more personal customer contact is increasing, also due to the use of conversational AI. That is not entirely without stipulations. For example, good recognition by chatbots is important, privacy must be dealt with adequately and support among employees is crucial”. This research will be expanded further in 2021 with live field tests.
Organisations know better than anyone what works and what doesn’t. Chatbots are over the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”, according to Gartner’s hype cycle, but it’s still too early to say if 2021 will be the year of bots.
Dutch organisations are positive in any case regarding the use of chatbots, according to the recently published Sector Survey Customer Contact 2020. This survey shows that >25% of the respondents are already working with chatbot and/or virtual assistant technology, >22% are thinking about it and almost 5% are in the pilot phase. Most importantly, 96%(!) are positive about the use of this technology.
Voice assistants are not breaking through quite yet in the Netherlands. Only 2.8% of the organisations surveyed are currently using voice assistants. Still, voice bots are in full development. Fremko Blox, IT Business Analyst at Rabobank, closely follows the developments surrounding voice and shares the following groundbreaking developments:
With “App actions”, the Google Assistant can easily perform actions in all kinds of apps that you’ve installed. For example, you can post a tweet by voice or request the status of your order in the PostNL app.
The experience with your smart speaker will be smoother. Google comes with “Chit chat” and Amazon with “natural turn-taking conversation”, which allows you to talk back and forth with your smart speaker, as with a real conversation. And, while Alexa’s going through a list, for example, you can even say ‘that!’ and she’ll make the connection between your ‘that!’ and the point that had just been read at that moment.
Whether it’s about relatively simple bots or advanced bots with numerous integrations, the customer experience determines overall success. One thing is for sure, technological innovations will continue to open doors for bots in 2021, so that they’ll gradually become more and more part of our daily lives.