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Chatbots: love them or hate them, they are everywhere. What started as a futuristic dream has evolved into a must-have technology for organizations at every level. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2022, 70% of customer interactions will involve emerging technologies such as machine learning (ML) applications, chatbots and mobile messaging, up from 15% in 2018.
This incredible technology does not just have deep benefits for external customers, but for internal as well, and present a bright future in cloud based IT service management software, self-service initiatives, and more.
The term “chatbot” can sometimes seem like a catch-all for any automated response system, however the formal definition of a chatbot is “a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the internet.”
Chatbot applications use artificial intelligence (AI technology) and can be accessed through a variety of communication channels, including email, web-based chats, social media platforms like Facebook messenger, professional chat services like Skype, MS Teams, and other IM services.
It is important to note that a chatbot (sometimes called a “virtual agent”) is not the same thing as a virtual service desk. A virtual service desk is a remote support team staffed by humans, while a virtual agent or chatbot is a computer program which provides guided support.
There are several benefits to using a chatbot for both customers and the support team. Chatbots empower customers – be they employees of a company looking for help from the service desk, or external customers who need help at odd hours – to find answers on their own, thus freeing up agents for higher levels of productivity and problem solving. For the service desk, this enables a shift-left strategy, which we will discuss later in the post.
Before we discuss the future, it is first important to discuss the history and evolution of chatbots.
The first ever chatbot was created by MIT professor Joseph Weizenbaum in the 1960s and was called ELIZA. Eliza simulated conversation by using a "pattern matching" and substitution methodology that gave users an illusion of the machine’s level of understanding, but in actuality, ELIZA had no built-in framework for contextualizing events.
Chatbots have come a long way since Weizembaum’s creation and have evolved from a simple script to a more seamless and natural interaction. In the 1990s, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) had several bots that provided a semi-contextualized conversation, but this was still a more primitive type of chatbot. Then, in the 2000s bots became big business and were more refined, resulting in major brands like Amazon and Target using them as a form of self-service.
The evolution of chatbots is continual, and the next wave of bot advancements includes the quest for more contextualized answers. This often comes in the form of a Natural Language Processing (NLP) engine that analyzes user input, aims to detect user intent, and subsequently identify and deliver relevant answers. This means that users can find information regardless of their dialect, spelling, or manner of speaking within each language. Further, NLP and contextual information help with the next step, which in the case of ITSM is automating actions such as service requests.
Chatbots have changed life for many people throughout the decades, especially those who work in the IT service desk. Below are just a few examples of the tasks and roles performed by chatbots and how they have improved productivity over time.
Onboarding within any department, but especially the IT service desk, can be cumbersome to say the least. Getting agents up to speed and able to field requests can be made easier with a chatbot that provides personalized and contextualized answers. Further, a chatbot can answer questions for new employees on everything ranging from the dress code to how to set up their telephones.
A major step in the evolution of chatbots is through the internal and external customer support that can be directed to the proper agent through chatbots. By gathering answers to specific questions, bots can guide customers to the proper resources, knowledge articles, or human agents that are needed.
One of the ways that bots have improved productivity is by providing additional insight. Bots can record customer feedback, provide intelligent data reporting on which articles are being bypassed or ignored, and help managers understand where to put this information to use.
Another major function of bots that has improved productivity is the provision of guided actions. A bot can guide the user through placing requests, ordering necessary supplies, and approval of these requests or additions, thus saving time and increasing productivity.
In the context of IT service management, the evolution of chatbots is powering major change. Chatbots can improve the employee experience – especially in the remote work paradigm – by providing access to ongoing support and creating a more seamless way to access stored knowledge which might otherwise be verbally communicated. Chatbots can also create a more uniform experience between departments and teams when they need to communicate with the service desk.
Further, chatbots are able to drive self-service internally and externally, reducing the number of Level-0 or Level-1 tickets, thereby supporting a shift-left initiative. By walking users through solving their own Level-0 or Level-1 tickets, thereby eliminating or reducing the number of low-level tickets, agents are available to handle more complex issues. This will also trickle through IT teams, allowing for a simpler change and release management process as more agents are available when a change must be rolled out, not to mention the ease in communicating the changes to users via the chatbot.
What started as a simple trick of the computer has evolved into a bot revolution. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2021, 15% of all customer service interactions globally will be handled completely by AI, an increase of 400% from 2017, and the trend is similar in the IT service management sphere. This is due in part to the fact that chatbots now can be personalized and utilize NLP technology to provide more contextualized answers.
The increase is also due to the next generation of employees (millennials and gen Z) and the way they prefer to interact with the world. Studies repeatedly show that the generation of workers entering the workforce now and in the near future, prefer to solve their own issues before contacting support -- be it through a chatbot or self-service portal. This is driving rapid adoption of the technology in both ITSM spaces and consumer-facing interactions.
The big question behind all of this is: why should businesses care?
Not only does chatbot adoption allow for greater productivity and a higher ROI on self-service or knowledge management tools, it also enables the IT service desk to provide faster answers the first time, every time. This can reduce friction between departments and can even extend outside of the IT department if you choose to use your ITSM software as enterprise service management. When used properly, these bots can also extend to the external customer, providing even more consistent messaging and resolution.
In the next decade, we predict that chatbots will become even more commonplace. Chatbots will become part of a more integrated omnichannel experience, with personalized and customizable assets for multiple languages.
In the evolution of chatbots, we can expect to see these bots become smarter through data analytics, contextualization, and the analysis of our behaviors. For example, following posing a question to a bot, the bot will understand if we follow and apply the answer or not. This will lead to greater use and adoption, which will in turn lead to even greater refinements.
The future of chatbots is bright, and not something to ignore. Chatbots and AI technology, coupled with a solid self-service initiative, will continue to grow and provide optimal service to every employee and customer. You won’t want to forget a’bot these incredible bots.
To learn how to put chatbots to work with your ITSM strategy, get a personalized demo!
Loïc Besnard serves as Senior Director of Product Marketing and Head Technical Evangelist at EasyVista. Besnard served as Global Pre-Sales Director of EasyVista until January 2017. He joined EasyVista in 2009 and is responsible for EasyVista’s worldwide pre-sales engineering strategy. With over 15 years of experience in the IT industry and international technical sales, Besnard supports EasyVista’s growth, international development and technical sales operations.
September 09, 2021