(Source: Jimmy Pike & Christopher Wilder ©Moor Insights & Strategy)
Microsoft and Facebook recently announced how they plan to drive leadership in the digital transformation and cloud market: bots. As more companies—especially application vendors—begin to drive solutions that incorporate machine learning, natural language, artificial intelligence, and structured and unstructured data, bots will increase in relevance and value. Google’s Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft see considerable opportunities to enable vendors and developers to build solutions that can see, hear and learn as well as applications that can recognize and learn from a user’s intent, emotions, face, language and voice.
Bots are not new, but they have evolved over time through the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, ubiquitous connectivity and increases in data processing speeds. In the mid-1990s, the first commercial bots were developed. For example, I was on the ground floor for the first commercial chat providers called ichat. As with many disruptive media-based technologies, as was the case with ichat, early adopters tend to be the darker side of the entertainment industry. These companies saw a way to get website visitors to stay online longer by having someone to interact with their guests at 3AM. Out of this necessity, chatbots were developed. Thankfully, the technology has evolved and now bots are mainstream and are being used to helping people perform simple tasks and interact with service providers. These tasks can be like booking hotels, routing customer service requests to the appropriate agent, help with shopping, translation or just to provide simple reminders and order a pizza.
With more input, data and faster processing speeds, bots will become more and more useful. Further, through successive iteration, bots will eventually achieve what may as well be awareness, even if it’s not cognitively awareness. Bots will eventually be part of our everyday lives while disrupting longstanding industries and business processes. Below are a few thoughts on the implications of bots.
Bots are a double-edged sword for the call center industry
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems and Automatic Call Director (ACD) are deployed to help companies contextually route callers to the appropriate agent or department. I recently read a few statistics from LivePerson stating 53% of Americans spend 10-20 minutes on hold every week, and 86% go on hold every time they call a business. Most, if not all, people become annoyed when they are put on hold, and according to a Harris Poll bad customer services cost Americans up to $108B per year. Further, Millennials are changing how we communicate (or not in many cases) with enterprises. To adapt, companies must adopt new ways of interaction including, but not limited to Twitter, text / SMS, Snapchat, WebRTC and now bots (see my article on trends in the communications market).
There is no doubt bots will put tremendous pressure on offshore contact center providers by replacing inexpensive, low-skilled agents with bots to provide qualification and basic routing of customers. Paradoxically, more expensive and higher-skilled call centers can reduce overall costs to gain up-front information, achieve a faster mean-time-to-resolution (MTTR) and improve overall customer service through the use of bots. Eventually call centers will incorporate AI and machine learning to determine additional attributes beyond their status as a customer. For example, mood, origin through accent and dialect, socioeconomic status, etc., all of these can be used to quickly help build rapport and familiarity between the business and its customer-base. Bots can listen to multiple calls at once and make decisions to intervene based on keywords, tone of voice and several other factors. Each of these will help customer service and contact centers reduce costs while improving overall efficiency. Eventually, talking bots will have the ability to verbally mimic the customer’s verbal traits and create a more familiar interaction to reduce customer infidelity and open cross-sell / up-sell opportunities.
Forward thinking technology companies such as LivePerson, Nuance Communications and contact center companies like First Call Resolution (FCR) are exploring and adopting technologies like bots to improve their customer relationships.
IoT focused bots will revolutionize FSA (Field Service Automation), MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Operations), Industrial Automation, and EAM (Enterprise Asset Management) markets
As the number of connected endpoints such as meters (submeters), sensors and other devices increase, so will the use of bots to make these organizations more efficient. Bots can be trained to monitor multiple devices at once and make ad hoc calibration changes to improve performance, identify and act on anomalies as they occur and remote troubleshooting. If there is a problem, bots can automatically create trouble tickets, schedule maintenance, order parts and generate an invoice without any human interaction. Technicians would still be responsible for replacing, installing, testing and closing out the trouble ticket, but overall support costs will be significantly reduced and much of the human error factor will be eliminated.
While many vendors in this space are not leveraging outward-facing bots today, they are developing automated workflows, analytics and data-driven technologies to help move some decision-making at the endpoint. Over the next couple of years, these companies will begin (if they haven’t already) incorporating AI and machine learning concepts into their products and / or roadmaps. Companies like ABB, IFS, Invensys, Oniqua, SAP, Schneider and ServiceMax are making solid strides.
Bots will become a strategic technology for cloud and datacenter service providers
For companies that deliver their solutions as a service, bots can be deployed in a cloud environment to proactively extend and manage technical support to reduce downtime, improve resource allocation (i.e., capacity planning) and to manage workloads loads. While there are many automation and orchestration companies that do pieces of each, bots can help technical support organizations to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning to better manage assets within their networks, especially in heterogeneous environments. I anticipate in the next 3-5 years, bots will offset 55% of level 1 and level 2 support calls for many organizations.
While this prediction may sound provocative to many vendors in the space, the practical reality is >75% of system downtime is due to human error. In a heterogeneous environment, bots can ensure workflows are adhered to, provisioning is accurate across platforms or environments and bots can work alongside technicians in performing their jobs and troubleshoot in real-time. Bots can help eliminate many of the low-level functions that are often overlooked and cause downtime.
Many people are understandably concerned about the effects this next generation of automation will bring. The practical reality is, bots will evolve to help us be more efficient and productive in all aspects of our lives. There is no doubt that these new technologies will threaten some marketplaces while helping others grow. What I do know is Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and many other industry vanguards have doubled-down on these technologies so you can at a minimum, in the very near future, expect to use bot technologies in your everyday lives.