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Take-up of chatbots will accelerate over next two years

Chatbots or virtual customer assistants (VCAs) will be used in 25% of customer services operations by 2020, compared with just 2% last year, according to Gartner.

The analyst said more than half of organisations have invested in VCAs for customer services so far, but the next two years will see them used more widely within the business.

Gene Alvarez, managing vice-president at Gartner, said improvements in natural language processing, machine learning and intent-matching capabilities has triggered further take-up. “As more customers engage on digital channels, VCAs are being implemented for handling customer requests on websites, mobile apps, consumer messaging apps and social networks,” he said.

Big cost savings can be achieved with the technology, according to Gartner. Organisations have reported a reduction of up to 70% in call, chat and/or email inquiries after implementing a VCA, it said, and customer satisfaction had also increased.

“A great VCA offers more than just information,” said Alvarez. “It should enrich the customer experience, help the customer throughout the interaction, and process transactions on behalf of the customer.”

IT will increase in importance for customer services as more and more engagements occur via digital channels. Gartner said that by 2022, 75% of all customer experience projects will make use of IT, compared with 50% in 2017.

“As the number of digital channels expands, self-service or digital commerce interactions are increasing, as well as the move away from human face-to-face or voice-based interactions,” it said. “The proportion of projects using IT to improve the customer experience will rise steadily.”

Projects that are not using technology tend to be those related to recruiting, training, governing and managing customer-facing employees, said Gartner.

Customer engagement channels are becoming increasingly automated and are using artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Garter predicted that by 2020, 30% of all business-to-business companies will use AI in at least one of their main sales processes.

For example, the Royal Bank of Scotland is using IBM Watson technology to provide a robot that will answer customer questions and pass requests on to the right agents.

Meanwhile, challenger bank Atom has integrated machine learning technology from WDS – part of Xerox – in its mobile app, saying this will provide near-human customer care.

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