Rethinking Chatbots: They're Not Just for Customers

Chatbots and digital assistants benefit a business's internal communications and decision-making, too.
Rethinking Chatbots: They're Not Just for Customers
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Grabbing that morning Starbucks fix got a little easier this year, thanks to artificial intelligence. Starbucks launched a new feature in January that allows customers who own iPhones or Amazon Echos to order their coffee through voice-activated assistants. Depending which device they use, customers can also ask check their Starbucks account balances, inquire about seasonal specials and find out which baked treats are available at their local stores.

Starbucks has said the use of digital assistants helps it provide more personalized customer experiences. These assistants are also more cost-effective (than the humans who normally would put in customer orders). They facilitate faster, more valuable engagement.

There's even more to AI's impact: While the Starbucks example (along with other uses for chatbots and digital assistants) focuses on external efforts -- benefitting customers, in this case -- chatbots can be immensely helpful in internal efforts such as:

Workflow and communication

Implementing AI can improve workflow and facilitate communication among team members. If someone runs late to a meeting, for instance, his or her digital assistant can ping other participants, telling them to push back the start time.

This will prevent everyone from needing to hop on the phone or send texts, delaying the meeting further. The chatbot will handle the logistics, so the humans involved can focus on getting to the appointment and having a productive discussion.

Digital assistants also drive shorter sales cycles. A salesperson might offer a presentation to a potential customer, then return to the office to type up a report for the presales or solutions teams -- a time-consuming but necessary responsibility.

But if this salesperson records the conversation, a digital assistant can extract the most important details from the transcript, fire off a few short emails and move on to the next high-level task.

Related: Create Your Own Chatbot Online and Increase Productivity

Decision-making and organizational processes

Another aspect of AI useful to entrepreneurs is how it can help them enhance decision-making and streamline processes across their organizations. Specifically:

1. Identifying (and eliminating) tedious interactions among team members. What regular interactions -- no matter how large or small your company -- annoy your employees or waste their time? Those are the interactions digital assistants can take over.

Take, for example, Overstock's Mila chatbot. Mila manages the interaction -- via a company app -- with an employee calling in sick. Mila will first offer sympathy, then collect relevant information about this person's schedules and responsibilities.

Next, "she" will contact the person's manager so he or she can plan accordingly. Mila replaced Overstock's outdated call-in hotline, for instance, saving the company time and money on lengthy back-and-forth phone conversations.

Sales teams also benefit from automation. Representatives see the greatest success when they invest in warm, qualified leads. However, warm leads take time to convert, and salespeople must log detailed notes about every interaction to guide that person toward a purchase.

Without those notes, leads go cold. But logging notes is time-consuming, and reps need to focus on other tasks. Virtual assistants can relieve that burden, ensuring that sales reps have the information they need without spending hours documenting it.

2. Putting the staff's time to better use. Outsourcing low-level tasks to AI allows teams to spend time on priority projects. For example, instead of having your team answer common questions, you might implement customer-support chatbots. These can provide answers to oft-repeated queries and direct customers to human reps for more complex issues.

The Nanorep chatbot will even flag gaps in a company's knowledge base to make the team aware of the information customers seek. That lets employees focus on bigger-picture issues rather than FAQs.

As for customers: They're becoming more accustomed all the time to dealing with chatbots, so don't worry about putting them off by using an AI system.

One survey from Deloitte University Press found that 22 percent of consumers interviewed had used chat apps to manage basic banking services; so people are familiar with the concept. As long as the system works well and delivers answers, customers will appreciate the service.

Related: We Test-Drive a Personal Chat Bot for Customer Service

3. Let bots assist, not replace, your team. Chatbots and digital assistants offer ways to improve productivity and customer service, but they can't replace your human employees. So, leverage small-scale AI to enable your workers to focus on complex, challenging tasks that boost the company's overall performance.

Simple time-saving functions such as Slack's Worklife bot streamline employees' workflows to minimize the amount of minutiae they have to cope with. That way, employees can redirect that energy to more important tasks. By 2025, digital data will hit a trillion gigabytes, according to an IDC report. With so much information coming at them every day, workers need all the help they can get.

Related: Is Your Startup Ready for Artificial Intelligence?

In the end, chatbots and digital assistants don't benefit just the customer -- a business's internal processes have just as much to gain from their advantages.

Business leaders who recognize the value of these AI functions will be rewarded with more streamlined operations and a more productive team -- two things no one would say no to.

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