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What’s Happening in Conversational AI

Only in the last few years have regular folks been able to “talk to robots” like we dreamed of in science fiction. This revolution in how people interact with computers has tremendous implications for businesses. Those who take the time to understand the technology and its potential will find success in the new era of conversational AI, and the following breakdown of the current state of the technology is a great place to start.

What is conversational AI?

Conversational AI is a type of artificial intelligence that enables software to understand and interact with people naturally, using spoken or written language. Chances are you’ve encountered conversational AI or chatbots on your smartphone or other smart device, or on a website in a customer service chat feature, but conversational AI can be found in many different conversational interfaces. For instance, it can be a bot that has a distinct personality or even a name, like Microsoft’s Cortana or Apple’s Siri. Many companies have launched bot services for customer support on their websites as a way to answer simple customer questions or forward difficult problems on to agents. These conversational bots are getting smarter, and the tasks they’re able to handle will continue to grow in complexity as technology advances and data quantities grow.

Why conversational AI?

Chatbots make software accessible to everyone who understands human language. A customer can avoid the frustration that comes with having to memorize and navigate complex menus and button layouts that are always changing with software updates. Instead, computers can be operated with simple human language that people can understand. Customers can now simply ask a bot to take them where they want to go, or to enable a feature without having to hunt it down. Good bot services encourage users to engage more deeply with software features that might otherwise go unnoticed, because they provide a richer, more natural experience. For example, imagine an image editing suite that can respond to a command like“Make the background of my photo darker.”

In addition to enhancing the customer experience, chatbots free up agents to respond to the more complex problems that are better solved by a customer service agent. When people are able to delegate a portion of their workload onto a conversational bot, they are now able to participate in higher value decision making for the company and expand their skills, which benefits the company and enriches the agents.The Royal Bank of Scotland used Watson to build their bot framework, which consists of two bots called “Cora” and “Marge.” Cora handles simpler, “first-time” problem resolution, and Marge assists the agents themselves when they need more information to respond to a customer’s query.

Want to learn more about how you can create a conversation bot? Start learning and experimenting with our chatbot API.

What’s happening in conversational AI?

We’re a ways off from fully fluent human-machine conversations like we’ve seen in science fiction, though AI researchers are making promising advancements toward that goal. In the meantime, we are experiencing some truly exciting developments in the field that business leaders will want to track to stay ahead in a competitive marketplace.

1. Broader Conversations. A lot of bot frameworks today have rather narrow sets of possible responses. If you ask a bot the date, it can give you the date. That’s a simple question with a simple definitive answer. We’re starting to see conversational bots that can answer questions like “What kind of car should I buy?” or “Why haven’t I gotten my package yet?” as chatbot services become more advanced.

2. Multiple Touchpoints. One common complaint people have with customer support is that you end up speaking with a different rep every time you call or email the company. This creates a communication breakdown, because the customer often has to explain themselves multiple times to bring every rep up to speed with their problem. But with conversation bots, every phone conversation, every text bot interaction, and every website behavior is recorded and remembered by the bot framework forever. This makes the customer experience more seamless, and even better-than-human.

3. Deeper Understanding. Conversational bots are getting to a point where they can recognize personality, emotion, and the tone of a conversation and adapt accordingly, because human language is more than just words. Advances in Natural Language Understanding (NLU) are catching up and will allow conversation bots to engage with people in more complex ways that won’t feel meticulously scripted by engineers using if-then rules.

We like to talk, and as bot services improve, we’ll get used to dealing with bots that speak our language. Companies that lag behind are going to present customer experiences that feel clunky, or out-of-date. But those that create excellent conversational interface swill reap the rewards of attracting the most fully engaged customers in history.

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