The ubiquitous chatbots are everywhere in our lives. Whether you wish to open a bank account, buy gold or life insurance, change your address, complain about a delay in the closing of your fixed deposit, you would be most probably interacting with a chatbot. Moreover, the chatbot would be powered by Artificial Intelligence, with a very accurate response in the blink of an eye; always learning and adapting. For the consumer, we are now used to lightning-fast interaction, response, and resolution while providing minimum inputs. For the companies, consumer acquisition and retention have been catapulted by these wonderful chatbots, bringing so much revenue and market share while reducing the cost of inbound and outbound sales, customer services et al.
Does this mean that the traditional email is obsolete? Why would email even exist in today’s scenario?
On the other hand, we do hear about the cold impersonal bots, and more importantly the inability of bots to deal with non-standard requirements and requests. How does one decide on chatbot vs email vs both? Do we need to balance or co-exist with them? How about using a magic formula or checklist that would let you know why, where, and when to use what? This is a question that comes up to most Chief Information Officers, Chief Marketing Offices, and Chief Operating Officers and this article will hopefully give you a direction in that regard.
WHAT AND HOW TO CHOOSE?
We will try to answer this by addressing the fundamental questions: FVCPSN: Function, Value, Complexity, Priority, Statutory, and Number. We must ponder these following important considerations :
- (Organizational) Function: Is our function revenue-generating: Lead Generation, Sales, Operations, Marketing or are we dealing with Back-end systems: Claims, Service requests, accounts, or legal issues?
- (Transactional) Value: Are we looking at substantial products or services having a high perceived value and benefits or alternatively regular commoditized lower value products and services?
- Complexity (of Purchase): Are the purchase decisions based on impulse and have a short cycle time or are these complex, time-consuming, and follow a structured decision-making process?
- Priority (of Communications): Are the customers HNIs or the masses; are the interactions escalations and repetitive? How do we handle customer or partner praise and criticism? What kind of response times are we looking at?
- Statutory (and Audit Requirements): Are we required to maintain the history of communication for personal use? What if government regulations make these mandatory?
- Number (of communications): Are there thousands or tens of thousands of millions of transactions and communications on the portal? What is the peak concurrency?
EXAMPLES AND INFERENCES
From the above FVCPSN, we can make some sort of generalization as to where chatbots would be more relevant than email and vice versa.
For example, we could easily see AI-powered chatbots fitting beautifully in lead generation and operations of retail banking, insurance, telecom, E-commerce, whitegoods, where there are tens of thousands of regular transactions, change requests, and communications of relatively lower complexity, commoditized products and services. Stringent response time, dealing with high volumes, and closing tickets and requests quickly are supercritical.
On the other hand, Sales and Customer Service for hospitality, automotive, investment banking, and aviation would be better served and fitting into the email communication category. These functions and customer verticals require a high degree of personalization and detailed responses, due to the high values of transactions, complex buying process and requirements, and statutory needs as well.
THERE IS ROOM FOR BOTH
Having said this, the initial communication could be via chatbot, and as the interaction progresses on its natural path, the personalization, high priorities, complexity, escalations, and regulatory compliances can also gravitate these chatbot interactions to more personal email interaction. Many of these conversations would be eventually logically concluded in real or virtual face to face interaction as well. A very widespread scenario here is that the initial Lead Generation from a product launch or a service campaign is done through chatbots and the outbound or offline sales team takes over and nurtures these leads through personal emails and then direct or channel interaction. Another very pertinent example is that complex and non-standard service requests need to be addressed quickly and efficiently through the email channel, once the chatbot route has been rendered ineffective. This will ensure minimum escalation and damage control.
Conversely, for products and services that have already traversed the growth and adoption path and are levitating towards commoditization; and also for new launches it would be more effective, efficient, and cost-efficient to necessitate a higher usage of chatbots vis-à-vis email communication.
IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCING
As in the case of every decision, one needs to also look at balancing cost, benefits, reputation, and damage control while finalizing the course of action; and these levers are so ever-dynamic over time, business line, and geography. Covid19 has taught the world to upskill and adapt. This point cannot be overemphasized, especially considering the fact that robots which were till now in an assembly-line way doing the back-end repetitive functions such as accounts payable, reimbursement, data entry are now fast taking over these critical lead generation, sales, customer service, and other front-end revenue-generating functions.
With their sphere of operations transcending countries, continents, and cultures, organizations also need to be conscious about the Internet, Bandwidth, and Communications that form the backbone of these diverse geographically dispersed internal and external stakeholders. There are still many countries in the world where Internet connectivity is at best intermittent and it may not be feasible to have real-time instantaneous and live communication.
THE CONCLUSION: INTELLIGENT CO-EXISTENCE
Perhaps the best combination is leveraging the power of both. It would of course be of immense help if one could analyze the first consumer/ customer/ partner touchpoint, make logical sense of it, and then accordingly route the communication to chatbots or the email channel.
Organizations have taken considerably relevant steps in this direction and are now leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Sentiment Analysis to quickly decipher and prioritize the initial communication of their internal and external stakeholders and send this to either or both channels. These NLP, Machine Learning and Sentiment Analysis tools help balance and juggle between the often diametrically opposite KPIs of SLAs, Response Time, Cost of Customer Acquisition, and Reputation Management. The Machine Learning algorithms of these tools self-learn from these wide sets of stakeholder responses and the accuracy of the deciphering model of communication can inch towards the high 90 %s.
To conclude: drawing an analogy from the coexistence of Robots and Humans, chatbots and emails can and will most certainly continue to exist together. If organizations leverage FCVPSN smartly, timely, and regularly, they can harness the power of both to be personal, responsive, flexible, cost-effective, and thus ensure high satisfaction of all internal and external stakeholders.
So, we encourage you to harness the power of both and reap exponential benefits.