The Inevitable Social Media Trends of 2021

Conversational Marketing in 2021: Chatbots & AI Success Depends on People

The conversational AI market is booming, with predicted growth from $ 4.8 billion to 13.9 billion over the next 5 years. 

Gartner’s research shows that by 2021 no less than 15% of customer service interactions will take place via AI. In 2022 this will already rise to 70%! Does this mean that human factors are subordinate to new technology and AI? 

Certainly not!

With input from AI experts Hans van Dam and Christine Liebrecht, I explain 3 trends that illustrate why a successful conversational application (now) mainly has to do with human factors.

Just this

COVID-19 affects us all, from consumers to organizations. This context does not lead to new trends, but it does lead to accelerated digitization and digital transformation. 

Simultaneously, convenience and reliability are more than ever crucial customer conditions for success, and the need for accessible, fast, and personal experiences with organizations is continuously increasing (PDF).

Trend 1. Digital where possible, people where necessary

The use of chatbots or voice assistants in the coming years is not about making as many experiences conversational as possible but about a synchronized offer of digital support and human contact. More than ever, bots will take over simple interactions or processes, both bot-only and in conjunction with human service experts. The choice for the best approach is increasingly being made based on data, vision, and customer feedback.

Practice shows that organizations are increasingly learning where and when a conversational approach works well. Not every use case requires a warm chatbot dialogue. Sometimes other channels, such as my environment or (web) content, offer a better customer question solution. Take an example of pricing. This can be seen much faster via a web page than via a chatbot.

Bots provide insight for a 360-degree customer view.

Besides, we increasingly see a role for bots ‘behind the scenes’. In particular, because of the data and insights that arise from contact with the customer. 

A conversation through a hybrid approach of people and chatbot provides insights for organizations to sharpen their 360-degree customer view. It teaches organizations better how the total journey of the customer goes and what their needs are. 

These insights are used to continuously improve how you communicate with customers.

Trend 2. Next level collisions are increasingly part of business processes

One of the conversational trends I wrote about last year was about the broad application of bots within business processes. The main application of chatbots is (still) relatively simple: getting an answer.

Where, when, and how the path to that answer takes place is continually evolving. After all, bots are available 24/7, suitable for any contact channel, and are increasingly intertwined with a wide range of (internal) systems through technical integrations.

Today, more and more top companies are integrating bots intending to optimize various business processes. 

Conversational is, therefore, increasingly becoming a means of smoothly handling information provision, transactions, or changes.

More transactional functionalities

H. van Dam, CEO of Conversation Design Institute, also sees this: “We are moving to level 3 AI assistants . These are better integrated with the backend and get more transactional functionalities. 

In this way, companies will actually unlock value and investments in conversational AI will increase. For voice, there is a lot of focus on conversational commerce, such as in the US, where work is being done on handovers from TV to Amazon Alexa for viewing and buying products directly.”

The development of smart bots is also becoming increasingly accessible, including for SMEs. More and more development platforms offer no-code or low-code options to get started with bots cost-effectively. These are intended to perform several simple tasks. However, there is also the danger of customer frustration if the bots’ experience is not set up from a customer perspective.

Trend 3. Successful use of bots is increasing

Will bots be used more effectively and efficiently shortly? “The successful use of bots will increase, but only if it is properly tailored to the experience of customers and employees,” says Christine Liebrecht, assistant professor of communication and information sciences at Tilburg University.

She is researching the responsible use of AI with a consortium of researchers and partners from the business world. “The need for more personal customer contact is increasing, also due to the use of conversational AI. 

That is not entirely without conditions. For example, good recognition by chatbots is important, privacy must be handled adequately and support among employees is crucial.” This research will be further elaborated on in 2021 with live field tests.

Organizations know better what works and what doesn’t. Within Gartner’s hype cycle, chatbots are about the peak of inflated expectations. However, it is still too early to say that 2021 will really be the year of bots.

Developments of voice bots

Voice assistants are not yet breaking through in the Netherlands. Only 2.8% of the organizations surveyed currently use voice assistants. Still, voice bots are in full development. Franko Blox, an IT Business Analyst at Rabobank, closely follows the developments around voice and shares the following groundbreaking developments:

  • With ‘App actions’, the Google Assistant can easily perform actions in all kinds of apps that you have installed. 
  • The experience with your smart speaker will be smoother. Google comes with chit chat and Amazon with natural turn-taking conversation. You can then keep talking up and down with your smart speaker, just like in a real conversation. You can even read “those!” while Alexa associates the reference with the point that was currently being read.

Whether it’s relatively simple bots or advanced bots with numerous integrations, the customer experience determines success. One thing is for sure, technological innovations will also open doors for bots in 2021. In this way, they gradually become a part of our daily life.

How conversational is your organization at the moment? And what’s on the roll in 2021?