From Ada to Leo to Temi, Artificial Intelligent (AI) Chatbots are increasingly finding their way into the wish list of business leaders. I am still amazed at the number of organizations that are just starting to dip their toes into AI chatbots, given the high costs of maintaining customer service centres for Africa’s large population.
A Chatbot is a software that can simulate a conversation (or a chat) with a human user in natural language through messaging applications (WhatsApp, Messenger), websites, mobile apps or through the telephone. Chatbots are important for Africa at this time because many factors have aligned perfectly to make Chatbot programmes strategically important.
Such factors are
• the Covid-19 pandemic forcing most organizations to rethink how business should be run virtually,
• the emergence of messaging platforms like Whatsapp as the primary communication channel amongst Africans
• The high cost of providing personalized services to our large population in Africa
• The success of the SMS/USSD banking bots.
• The increasing number of customers willing to transact and buy over messaging platforms like WhatsApp.
Most businesses in Africa can benefit from an AI Chatbot programme however the ‘perceived’ complexities can scare many managers. Some managers that considered launching AI chatbot programmes in the past may have been turned off by all the technical terms like Natural Language Processing, APIs etc that technology professionals like to throw about.
However, a Chatbot programme is much more than the underlying technology. If anything, AI Chatbot programmes are 80% process and 20% technology. It is far more important to get the process right than to pick the hottest AI technology tools. In this 3- part article I present an easy to follow step by step guide for every business leader looking to start or manage an AI Chatbot programme in their enterprise
1. Start with why
As with any product, a chatbot should solve a fundamental strategic problem for an enterprise. It is unfortunately very easy for organizations to fall into the me-too trap and launch AI Chatbot programmes because competitors are doing it. The results from such me-too chatbots are usually muted.
It is important to have solid ‘Why’ behind any AI Chatbot programme and as such, a solid business case must be made before starting to talk about technology.
As part of defining the business case, managers must define the benefits for the two sides of the conversation. The benefits to the customer and the benefits to the organization.
Benefits to the business are usually based around 3 key factors
• Increasing Revenues (e.g New Sales Channel)
• Reducing Costs (e.g reduction in customer service costs)
• Minimizing Errors (e.g automation)
Benefits to the customer have usually based the core behaviours that drive customers in digital interactions (see Digital Transformation PlayBook book by David L. Rogers). These are
• Access – providing a faster and always-on experience for customers
• Engage – interacting with the customer one-on-one
• Customize – providing personalized services to an ever-increasing divergent customer base
• Connect – giving the customer a voice and making their opinions matter
2. Know Your Customer
The second stage of managing a chatbot project is understanding the habits and preferences of the end-users. Understanding your customers helps informed decisions like what interfaces to the chatbot can interact on and how the conversation flow should be designed.
For example, if most of the end-users prefer WhatsApp over telegram then an organisation can better focus its efforts on developing a chatbot for the WhatsApp channel rather than develop for all platforms.
3. Determine the Primary Role of the Chatbot
“We want the Chatbot to be able to do everything”.
This is a common statement we hear from clients when discussing chatbot projects. This of course is not possible!!
A Chatbot must at least start off doing one thing and doing it very well. For success in any chatbot project, organisations must determine early on what the primary role of the Chatbot should be. Making this decision early on helps guide the team in later stages and helps keep any AI Chatbot project on track.
In the book, ‘A guide to AI chatbot Project management’, the author (Igor Luzhanskiy) presents the six different purposes of chatbots.
• Sales – for helping customers make purchases
• Lead generator – for keeping users engaged and converting leads
• Interface – for providing access to external services.
• Informant – acts as a directory service for providing information
• Helper – customer service bots that help users solve their queries and issues
• Psychologist – for providing advice and counselling