Our 2021 Bot Vision: 7 Chatbot Predictions for the Enterprise
It’s time for some chatbot predictions as we wrap up an unprecedented year where COVID-19 surged throughout the globe, forcing lockdowns, business closures, remote working, and a shift to all things virtual.
7 Chatbot Predictions for 2021
1. The Pandemic-induced Acceleration of Digital Self-Service using Chatbots will Continue
The urgency for digital self-service options was one of the most striking impacts of the pandemic during 2020 and this is where conversational AI came into its own with high growth in the adoption across most sectors as businesses scrambled to enable employees to work remotely while enabling customers to safely self-serve via digital channels.
According to Gartner, penetration rates of Conversational AI increased by 20%-50% in 2020, up from 5%-20% in 2019. As we emerge from the pandemic in 2021, many things will begin to return to a new normal. However, organizations that embraced technologies that supported their customers and employees throughout the pandemic are already showing signs of furthering these efforts. Having seen how digital assistants could take over and automate many routine interactions and tasks, businesses are now looking to see how they can roll out the technology in other parts of their business (beyond just the customer service or contact center which was a key focal point as the pandemic hit).
The contact center will be forever changed. Over-reliance on having agents in a call center handling customer queries shifted dramatically to cloud-based solutions enabling agents to work remotely, and to digital assistants at the forefront of interactions, automating routine responses and tasks while leaving the complex issues to live agents. This automation-first approach will become the new normal as we emerge from the crisis. Chatbots will become the new worker for the contact center but won’t replace the need for humans to handle irate customers, complex tasks, or unique customer requests. Customers will increasingly embrace the convenience of digital assistants especially as the experience with them becomes more personalized and advanced.
2. The Growing Pains of Chatbot Implementations will Emerge
As enterprises dip their toes into the metaphorical sea of machine learning, the public NLP services they use to facilitate this experimentation will quickly show their limits. As chatbots are scaled to handle a greater number of intents and more complex utterances, the performance of a chatbot can degrade. Customer expectations will increase as technology innovators overcome the limits of public NLP engines and begin to figure out how to solve complex issues such as multi-part queries & requests, for example: “I need a copy of my bill because I have changed my bank and my direct debit needs to be updated”.
As organizations expand the technology to more use cases, their bot landscape will quickly multiply. Managing a diverse landscape and/or a growing army of different bots will put pressure on enterprise IT and AI teams. Lines of business will be more concerned about inconsistent experiences, overlap, and the cost of maintaining and updating their solutions.
This growth will drive the adoption of alternative approaches, such as the multi-bot architecture as companies push the boundaries of single bot deployments.
3.. Chatbot Security Continues to be Critical
As bots mature beyond simple question-and-answer use cases and as enterprises push out more advanced chatbots that handle context data, conversational AI bot security becomes an increasing risk factor and a table-stakes feature for vendors, for example, chatbots in banking.
It won’t be surprising to see some more headlines announcing high-profile chatbot-related data breaches throughout 2021. Companies can get ahead of this by deploying security strategies across the complete lifecycle, from bot design and creation to bot deployment and management. A platform approach helps enforce better security and governance control for IT by centralizing bot development projects in one place.
Bot building tools will be required to provide sufficient security measures to ensure that business data is protected at all times, is never aggregated, always isolated, and under the control of the enterprise.
In 2021, we expect security to be even more of a focus as organizations try to balance their appetite for more advanced chatbot solutions with the need for end-to-end security.
3. The Lines Between Chatbots and Intelligent Automation will Blur
A chatbot without automation may be able to win a game of Jeopardy or answer FAQs, but the true power of a bot is revealed when it can not only respond to the user but make things happen at speed. The key to a successful business chatbot increasingly lies in the automation of underlying tasks that are required to fulfill the user’s needs. Now, with the opportunity for automation and conversations to be powered by AI, unprecedented levels of productivity and efficiencies can be achieved across complete business processes and customer journeys.
In 2021, expect conversational engagement to intersect even more with AI-powered automation, marrying together intelligence, conversational engagement, and automation in ways that are truly transformative.
4. RPA Providers will seek to Extend their Offerings to Include Chat
In line with the intersection of AI-driven automation and conversational engagement, we expect to see the RPA market extend highly automated back-office processes to conversational interfaces whereby a user can interact with a chatbot that is integrated with an RPA bot.
Highly repetitive back-office processes like invoicing, claims processing, payroll, refunds, and many more are ultimately driven by a customer or employee need. It, therefore, makes sense to integrate RPA more tightly with the customer interaction points. This helps further reduce manual interventions, delays, and errors across complete process chains, enabling faster resolution times, higher accuracy rates, and generating other business benefits as they relate to the business case.
Bringing together conversational engagement with RPA will also help organizations operate more efficiently across departmental silos and deliver a superior and frictionless customer experience. RPA vendors will be under pressure to add more value to their offerings in 2021. However, conversational skills are not in the wheelhouse of these vendors so we expect to see them acquire the technology and skills through partnerships and acquisitions.
5. The Uses for Chatbots get More Innovative
Enterprises are becoming more adventurous with their chatbots as they climb the learning curve, demonstrate real business value from their AI customer service bots, and avoid the pitfalls of poor bot experience and technology. Already we see clients come to the table with a lot of imagination and willingness to transform their business models and processes using a bot-driven, AI-enhanced, automation-first approach.
Improvements in image recognition now enable businesses to rethink how they gather information from their customers and/or employees using a chatbot. Lengthy descriptions, form filling, or the need for a scheduled visit from a service provider can be vastly reduced by means of requesting image uploads from a customer. Images or documents can be scanned and relevant data extracted and attached to the system of record, further limiting the need for costly human involvement on routine tasks.
Throughout 2021 we’ll see businesses overturn some core business processes as they apply geolocation, image recognition, speech recognition, and intelligent automation to their bot solutions.
7. The Open Source Community for NLP will Continue to Grow and Innovate
Public NLP engines have been largely dominated by the big guys – IBM, Google, AWS, Microsoft. However, a thriving open source community around conversational AI has emerged and we expect this to continue to grow, driving even more innovation and advancements in the tooling around chatbot development.
The key driver for this is to allow newer AI models such as BERT to be deployed quickly with better results on top of open source platforms like Rasa.
Chatbots are here to stay. Despite some frustrations and chatbot failures, businesses are forging ahead with chatbot solutions.
Why? Simply put, they cannot risk being left behind by not embracing a technology that brings the promises of greater cost reductions, faster resolution and onboarding rates, and higher customer conversion and satisfaction rates. Perseverance will pay off as the galloping speed of innovation and technology advancements will address many of the limitations and failures of early chatbots.
If I was to choose one industry that has embraced chatbot technology in the last year or two it is the insurance sector. For an industry that is often characterized as being traditional and slow-moving, this is one to watch. Coming into 2021 we are seeing some incredible transformations in insurance business models, driven in part by chatbots. There will be more to come next year.
So hang on in. 2021 will bring a slew of great chatbot stories across many industries, not just insurance.
Launch the new year with a chatbot plan that takes advantage of the multiple business benefits that AI bots can bring.
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