They have names like Maria, Stefan, Ina, Julia or Christian and they all have one thing in common: they aren’t real. Companies have been using these virtual online advisors – bots for short – for many years, but only since last year has the topic really taken off. One reason could be that thousands of chat and twitter bots were used in the recent U.S. presidential elections to support the campaigns of candidates Clinton and Trump – without the intervention of real humans.
A study by the University of Oxford has revealed that every third follower of the two candidates was not actually a person, but rather a machine. "Bots are used chiefly to reinforce trends," reports political and computer scientist Simon Hegelich from the Bavarian School of Public Policy. The goal is to make a candidate’s tweets or Facebook pages more popular than they otherwise would be.
Although many people are justifiably skeptical of these new bots, companies welcome them as an opportunity to cut costs and enhance customer loyalty. After all, customers today expect to have service available 24/7, via all communication channels. The constant availability of products and information puts businesses, government offices and service providers under a great deal of pressure to have an open ear to customer queries or complaints, around the clock. But customer service is often overloaded – or would otherwise be too expensive – to offer this kind of comprehensive, around-the-clock customer care. The solution here comes in the form of intelligent computer systems – the so-called "chat bots".
For Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, bots are the new apps , i.e. a trend with mass usage potential. He wants to "democratize" artificial intelligence and the resulting growth. Under his vision, everyone could profit from this – and not just the large high-tech companies like Google, IBM or Microsoft, who however are researching and driving this development.
These virtual assistants have already been put to work at Ikea, Deutsche Telekom, Unicef and many other enterprises, including the German Armed Forces and German libraries. And they are often scarcely distinguishable from real people,. Thanks to extensive knowledge databases and artificial intelligence, they are capable of understanding complex problems and formulating the correct reaction to questions or events. They can swiftly answer regularly recurring questions and solve problems 24/7, 365 days a year.
Chats are moreover the ideal medium for fast question-and-answer games: Here, users are more forgiving if it takes a few seconds to receive an answer than they would be for a phone call. And chats can also be initiated using Facebook or WhatsApp, making it unnecessary to install an additional app. Chatbots, by the way, are used primarily to handle relatively simple questions.
The main difference between the bots of recent decades and today’s AI chat partners are the masses of data which can be analyzed in real-time. Compared with human advisors, a chatbot takes into consideration all of the information available for every query – the address, contract data, previous queries, or order history – all of which flows into artificial intelligence processing. Added to this is the precise analysis of identical queries: What kind of information was used to solve a similar problem, and which information was not?
Bots analyze all of this and deliver the appropriate response. And by now, they can even do this in real-time user dialogue. Siri, Alexa and Cortana – the digital voice assistants from Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft – are good examples of what to expect in the near future: voice-controlled robots that can give you the right answer to almost any question, and in some cases, even tell a joke while doing so.
In the United States, artificial intelligence is already playing a role in legal decisions, while doctors continue to take advantage of AI for diagnosis and therapy. At CeBIT, companies can find out ways and means of getting to know their customers better and providing better customer support. For example, at the Marketing & Sales Solutions event.