We Test-Drive a Personal Chat Bot for Customer Service

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This story appears in the January 2012 issue of . Subscribe »

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Ever wish you had a clone? We're not quite there yet, but how about a "cyber twin" while you wait? Sydney-based MyCyberTwin offers a high-tech twist to online interaction with clients. The company injects a "virtual human"--aka, a cyber twin--into the process of responding to customer queries. The company offers several automated discussion tools it hopes will allow even small firms to host meaningful, automated interactions with clients.

"We are bringing legitimate artificial intelligence to the sales and customer management process," says co-founder and chief innovation officer John Zakos. "And we are doing it at a cost that any company can afford."

Related: Top 10 Best Chatbot Platform Tools to Build Chatbots for Your Business

Because most firms struggle with finding real humans who can host a meaningful dialogue with customers, we gave the midlevel, small-business version of MyCyberTwin a solid once-over to see if your virtual better half has arrived.

How it works: The product comes in several different packages. The first is a free personal chat bot that amounts to a random conversation generator. It can answer basic questions like, "What are you doing today?" but little else.

The second, more powerful version costs $25 to $1,000 per month, depending on the number of chats you use. The tool is a self-provisioned--and trainable--intelligent agent that lets firms anticipate questions and preprogram a variety of answers.

An enterprise version that supports speech and video runs $15,000 a month and requires an initial investment of $150,000 to $300,000.

Why you might like it: The midlevel MyCyberTwin, with some effort, really can hold long conversations and guide a client through a process of ordering a service or troubleshooting a product. If you're already managing an offshore call center with established sales scripts, MyCyberTwin could be a reasonable next step or addition to the, um, staff.

For basic questions, we found we could train MyCyberTwin to be quite helpful. For example, we set the tool up so it could infer that similar questions like, "Are you on Twitter?" and "Do you have Twitter?" would give a user the company Twitter ID--and that's a tricky bit of computing.

MyCyberTwin can easily be dropped into a website with either a link or a pop-up window. And it saves a copy of all conversations for easy human review. Learning to use the tool is fairly straightforward.

Related: How to Create a Facebook Messenger Chatbot For Free Without Coding

Why you might not like it: MyCyberTwin can say some really dumb things. For questions or comments that don't, shall we say, compute with CyberTwin, watch out. We asked MyCyberTwin the completely random--yet reasonable--question: "If I ordered a pair of shoes now, when do you think I can get them shipped to me?" The CyberTwin answer? "Things often look more complete when they are in a pair, less lonely perhaps. Would you agree?" Many customers wouldn't be amused. Instead, they should program it to respond with, "I don't understand your question."

And while training the CyberTwin is easy, getting real results to a real business problem is intensely time-consuming. Expect at least several weeks of trial and error.

Related: Three Ways to Keep Your Customers Coming Back

What we think you should do: MyCyberTwin deserves a test drive so you can get a feel for the current state of artificial intelligence in the workplace. For simple things, like FAQs, it might be worth installing. But the risk of it responding to a paying customer with some idiotic comment programmed by somebody who doesn't seem to have a great sense of humor makes us nervous.

For the most part, we recommend that you continue to focus on offering your customers real human interaction--for now.

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