Even for emerging technologies, the old adage rings true: You get what you pay for. Many technology vendors claim to offer AI, or even conversational AI, but what they’re really selling is chatbots. We’ve written at length about the many critical ways AI and chatbots differ, but some simple chatbot vendors will try to convince you their products are sophisticated AI systems. However, in the simplest terms, AI can learn, grow and improve on its own. Chatbots follow strict scripts and are no more “intelligent” than automated phone systems.

Unfortunately, some companies have deployed chatbots while thinking that they’ve actually deployed advanced AI, and such a move has potentially long-term negative implications. With chatbots, employees will still need to handle the bulk of the repetitive work they’ve always done, business processes will not change very much, and back-end integrations will most likely end up as completely unnecessary because chatbots will fail to deliver expected business value.

In this post, we’ll examine several critical ways in which deploying a chatbot could not only jeopardize ROI, but actually introduce unnecessary risks and costs, compared to what a company can achieve by deploying real conversational AI.

Don’t Choose Simple If You Need Smart

You should investigate AI solutions that are skilled enough to execute tasks based on expert, data-based decision-making. You should target the most frequently occurring or repeated customer or employee issues, ones for which an advanced AI solution can deliver results. For example: Customers who ask questions such as, “Should I apply for the loyalty program?” or “Which product will look better above my fireplace?” are not looking for a generic scripted answer via a simple chatbot.

With a conversational AI system in place, your AI can provide informed opinions about customers’ questions and concerns based on how they have interacted with the system in the past. The system can research consumers’ history, access market data, and, most importantly, inquire about the customers’ own preferences and needs in order to render educated recommendations.

Chatbots can only usher users through highly templated interactions. A chatbot will probably be able to handle some of your basic customer questions, but it will still require constant human employee support due to the technology’s inability to decipher idiomatic questions, quickly learn new products or handle multi-context requests. If a customer asks for feedback or help making a decision, a chatbot will escalate the request to a human worker unless that exact question has been programmed for a response. This is an extremely inefficient result for both the company and its customers. When a customer asks the chatbot a simple question, such as, “Should I apply for the loyalty program?” the chatbot will send them right back to where the customer would have gone before the chatbot was deployed — a human customer service agent. This is not exactly an ideal scenario for ROI for a chatbot investment.

Customers Hate Unnecessary Steps

Every company wants to save money by automating basic tasks, and that in and of itself is a worthy goal. But there’s one substantial problem with hiring a chatbot: Your customers are not aware, or frankly don’t care, about your chatbot’s limitations. If they receive an answer to their initial question, they’ll likely ask a more complicated follow-up or ask if they can make a transaction. A basic chatbot will field those follow-up questions in the only way it knows how – by escalating them to human workers. In the end, users will have poor experiences, human intervention will still be required and customers are likely to turn back to human contact methods in the future (or stop dealing with your brand entirely). In essence, you’ve invested in a project that drives customers toward an experience you were trying to avoid.

This Applies to Employee Interactions Too

Think of the time employees waste entering, exiting and navigating enterprise systems. IT helpdesk, finance, CRM, ERP and security systems can be complex, even for employees who have been at a company for years. By connecting AI to back-end software, a company removes the barriers and latency between intent and action.

AI systems with front-end conversational interfaces can seamlessly integrate with any enterprise process, system or layer. Regardless of scope or scale, a conversational AI solution can be tailored to handle complex business process requirements. Simple RPA bots and chatbots are effective at Q&A-style interactions, but they cannot enter a new client’s information into a CRM tool, and then send a follow-up email in three weeks — simple chatbots are simply not designed to perform such tasks.

AI is able to learn processes and apply knowledge in an appropriate context, and it can search for ways to improve those processes. Within the context of your business, you likely apply some form of automation to the work you do. You’re likely using out-of-the-box automations provided by IT vendors to perform basic tasks by repeating the same processes over and over again. This is great for a short period of time. But when your company tweaks something in the IT environment, or if you need to upgrade software within the ecosystem, the automations will have to be reprogrammed, which takes time and effort away from other higher-value projects.

Real AI observes active automations and proactively seeks enhancements or shortcuts. If it finds an enhancement, it alerts human colleagues and asks if the enhancement can be applied to future processes. If the platform can’t fix an issue on its own, it will watch how human engineers resolve it and copy the process in order to apply it to future problems.

A chatbot might be able to provide employees with a new email password, or a Wi-Fi code, but it isn’t learning the processes behind these simple actions. If something changes within your technology ecosystem, the chatbot will not find a solution, which means a human will have to be alerted.

These are just a few of the many ways that a chatbot implementation could wind up costing your business money instead of delivering anticipated ROI. Deploying a true conversational AI system can completely change your business and provide massive returns — or you can deploy a chatbot and end up back where you started, with little to show for the investment.

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