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Chatbots – New Developments, New Threats and New Opportunities

The recent Intercom survey of 500 US business leaders (reported in Forbes) on Chatbots claims that business saved an average of $300,000 in 2019 thanks to chatbots, with the greatest impact occurring across support and sales teams; the sales function is the most common use case for chatbots (41%), followed closely by support (37%) and marketing (17%); chatbots increased sales by an average of 67%, with 26% of all sales starting through a chatbot interaction; 35% of business leaders said chatbots helped them close sales deals; top automated tasks performed by chatbots are routing website visitors, collecting information, and qualifying leads; chatbots speed up response times by an average of 4 times and increase customer support satisfaction scores by 24%. The Survey also asked 500 US consumers – 74%  expect to encounter a chatbot on a website, but 87% still prefer humans to chatbots for quick interactions; 25% of consumers do not care if they talk to a human or a chatbot, as long as they get to their desired outcome; consumers say humans are better at answering a variety of questions, understanding complex situations and they can “understand me” better; other consumers say chatbots are better because they are available 24/7, they reduce hold times, and are quick in routing to the right customer relations team.

Returning to the issue of cyber-crime and threats to the consumer there is a new issue to watch – deep-fake voice fraud is an increasing threat. Deep-fake voice replicates a user’s voice, therefore, opening up his/her computer to any voice-recognition services.  There are other concerns where voice recognition is used, new research by ID R&D (a provider of AI-based biometrics and voice and face anti-spoofing technologies) shows that 30% of Americans are not confident they would be able to detect the difference between a computer-generated voice and a human one.  36%  are confident they could spot a fake.

Among other findings are that 66% of US adults agree they would be concerned that voice biometric technology could allow someone to impersonate their voice and gain access to their accounts. This means there is a reluctance to adopt the technology, only 27% would prefer to log into devices and accounts using their voice instead of having to enter logins. But 40% agreed when asked if they would prefer a highly secure, but easy to use method (voice or face biometrics) of logging in to access sensitive applications and accounts instead of an alphanumeric password or pin. 33% would use Alexa or other home voice assistants to access account information if they were confident the transaction was secure. 27% would also engage with chatbots more if they could be sure of a secure transaction, and 32% would use chatbots more if they knew they could conduct an entire transaction without being transferred to a customer service representative.

Meanwhile, Vodafone UK has reduced its call centre operatives in its network operations centres (NOCs) following the introduction of machine learning tools. The number of employees at these facilities has dropped by over 60% from 1,500. These cuts are in addition to earlier downsizing in customer service. In total the UK operator has reduced headcount by over 1,700 positions in the past 2 years, or roughly 13% of its total workforce. These cost savings contribute to parent-company Vodafone Global’s aim of decreasing operational costs by at least €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) per year by the 2021 fiscal year. Automating operations help telecoms globally to lower costs while also increasing nimbleness so they can meet fast-evolving customer needs.

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Alastair Tempest

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