If you haven’t been in hiding, you will have noticed a recent surge in the discussion of virtual assistants, or ‘chatbots’, particularly since the launch of Air New Zealand’s ‘Oscar’ virtual assistant last year. This is the latest step in digitally advanced companies’ (like Air New Zealand’s) quest to digitally enable the customer journey from start to finish. However, as artificial intelligence technologies become more sophisticated, chatbots will begin to mimic real human interactions with frightening accuracy, as Google demonstrated recently.

In New Zealand, most chatbots (including Oscar) are customer-facing, dealing with basic queries and requests, and strengthening the customer service offering. We have predominantly seen scripted chatbots designed to look for key phrases and give pre-defined responses. These bots are transactional in nature. They can answer queries, or direct you to webpages with further information. They are largely stand-alone, meaning integrations to other systems are limited. However, Deloitte has written extensively on how to get more value from chatbots, and is supporting clients in New Zealand to also explore how chatbots can improve customer experiences in non-conventional, business-internal ways. For example, we have helped clients reduce the burden on business functions such as HR and IT by using internal-facing chatbots.

Chatbots are more than just a ‘nice to have’. With their rapidly increasing sophistication and decreasing cost to implement, they deserve serious consideration as an integral part of your organisation’s customer service offering. The benefits of chatbots are wide ranging and undeniable. The most significant for New Zealand organisations include:

Staff enablement

While some argue chatbots threaten jobs, Deloitte encourages clients to recognise that chatbots free up staff to focus on more value-added, strategic activities. In the HR domain, 50% of staff time is traditionally spent answering FAQs. Redirecting this traffic to integrated enterprise chatbots (that can even action certain tasks) allows the HR team to concentrate on activities that grow the business and deliver greater value.

Communicate however your customers want to

Chatbots allow customers to communicate seamlessly through most modern mediums. Bots can be programmed to respond via audio (through a webpage, telephone or home device) or written text, can be integrated to most messenger platforms (Facebook messenger, Slack, Whatsapp etc.), and can speak most of the world’s major languages.

Consistent quality of service

Chatbots run off code, not energy. They don’t get tired at the end of the day, nor do they lose concentration. Their code base ensures they are 100% focused at all times. Customers therefore experience a consistent level of quality and service, and receive consistent answers to questions.

Chatbot availability

As long as an internet connection is available, chatbots are ready to answer customer queries at any time of the day or night. Chatbots are scalable, meaning they can handle unlimited conversations simultaneously, allowing customers to get answers as and when it suits them. Gone are the days of “please wait for the next available operator”.

Reduce the cost to serve

While the commercial details of each platform may differ, the ongoing costs for chatbots generally are relatively low. Therefore, using chatbots can noticeably reduce an organisation’s cost to serve. With such scalable technology, this cost only decreases exponentially as your customer base grows.

While smart machines were once the stuff of science fiction, true artificial intelligence is here, today, disrupting the business world as we know it. As chatbot technologies continue to advance their natural language understanding and ability to integrate seamlessly with other enterprise platforms, New Zealand organisations must take note. These are powerful tools to add to any customer service toolkit. How could your organisation use chatbot technology to improve customer outcomes?

If you would like to understand how chatbots could be incorporated into your technology strategy to enhance customer service offerings, or would like a demo of chatbot technology in action, do get in touch with the team.

Find out more about Deloitte New Zealand's Digital and Technology services here.

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