The only constant thing in the ecommerce realm is change. Sometimes it comes in the form of passing fads, and at other times as a seismic shift. The rise of AI chatbots certainly falls into the latter category. They are part of a wider transition to automated business processes and systems that support customer service.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to foster better shopping experiences and streamline a vast matrix of interactions. Some people even go as far as to say that chatbots are the future of the whole industry, which is, as you will see, not so far-fetched.
The game has changed
A chatbot is an automated program that simulates conversations, answers queries, and handles specific requests. As such, it mimics human thinking and decision making. Chatbots have been around for some time, but the real game-changer is their capacity to improve and learn. Indeed, the leaps and bounds by which the technology advances are what’s driving the widespread adoption, but they do not tell the whole story about why ecommerce businesses were so quick to embrace the change.
Namely, the proliferation of chatbots is fueled by shifting consumer expectations and preferences. Customers expect lightning-fast response times and want the purchase process to play out nice and easy. Moreover, the surge in mobile ecommerce has raised the bar as organizations need to accommodate ever higher volumes of traffic. Chatbots come as an indispensable tool here, one that allows businesses to attract clients one-on-one, in a personalized manner.
Artificial intelligence is at the core of the best chatbots, and nowadays, AI is able to process an immense flow of information from literally millions of requests. At the same time, it comes up with meaningful responses and product recommendations as well as comparisons. How is this possible? Well, chatbots harness the acquired pool of information and feedback to improve conversations and facilitate payment processes. Deep learning technology enables them to grasp specific concepts such as product names and pictures.
It goes without saying that data is the key to the evolution of chatbots and that it is growing beyond the wildest imagination. By feeding the algorithm with enough data, one can empower bots to stay on top of new requests and offer correct (pre-registered) answers. Thus, we are moving beyond static data sets and entering the territory of constant refining and fine-tuning. That is why ecommerce businesses have to invest in machine learning infrastructure and perpetually gather and process new data.
Implementing chatbots is relatively inexpensive, but what does cost a bit is developing a highly efficient bot. In order to hit it big, one has to be flexible and take advantage of innovative chatbot technologies such as voice recognition. NeuraFlash, for instance, has developed a super AI chatbot that uses natural language processing (NLP) to comprehend text patterns. On top of it, the bot utilizes Salesforce data and history to personalize conversations.
There are many other chatbots that stand out from the rest. FedEx’s new Alexa app lets users track packages without having to type anything. Mitsuku, on the other hand, is the current winner of the Loebner Prize. It is hailed as the most humanlike AI bot since it passed the Turing test with flying colors. We should also mention RightClick, an innovative chatbot that creates websites based on general questions such as “What industry you belong to.”
Limitations and possibilities
The retail sector has taken notice as well. Now companies strive to combine digital and physical experience into one amalgam. They recognize the opportunity to boost efficiency and reduce costs in one stroke. Still, bear in mind that chatbots are not a one-size-fits-all solution. They have to be used in the right context to understand client needs and ensure a proper response. In other words, they should be built around the axis of user experience and deeply integrated into the ecommerce backend framework.
Finally, one of the main limitations of chatbots is the lack of ability to properly empathize. Also, some people are simply weary of interacting with bots. That is why an ecommerce business should always have a human representative ready to jump in. This brings us to the point that chatbots cannot still replace humans, or even websites and apps. Besides, they need to be maintained and “educated” by humans through machine learning. That does not change the fact that they are an incredible asset to a multichannel chat strategy and a powerful automation tool, though.
The future is now
Chatbots are here to rock the world of ecommerce. They are already changing the face of the industry, delivering information faster and more efficiently than humans ever could. Hence, numerous companies are in a position to tap into new markets and explore buying opportunities. Chatbots, however, do not yield results by simply existing: They must actively contribute to the effort of taking customer service and experience to the next level. Finally, they may be far from perfect and best able to tackle mundane and repetitive tasks, but once they reach the milestone of understanding emotions, the sky’s the limit.
Stella Saroyan specializes in digital marketing and ecommerce.