A chatbot (aka chat bot), chatterbot or bot for short, is an automated, Conversational User Interface (CUI) to any kind of service on the Internet. As opposed to a Graphical User Interface (GUI) such as a website, a mobile app, or a kiosk terminal, a chatbot exposes information through text-based chat, leading a conversation with the user using natural language, or a combination of natural language and buttons to advance the dialogue.
Chatbots are typically embedded in messaging apps such as Messenger or WeChat, but could also be offered on a website via web chat, or over the carrier channels SMS and USSD.
Applications in Customer Service / Customer Support
Chatbots are applicable in a variety of ways, such as for entertainment (games, brand engagement), infotainment (sharing information in novel ways), information access (weather information, stock quotes, …), etc. A big use case for chatbots, however, is customer service / customer support, where everything typically starts with a question the customer has:
- “Where is my order?”
- “What is your routing number?”
- “How much do you charge for shipping?”
- “What is the status of my claim?”
In the past, customers were forced to convert this question into a sequence of menu choices, be it on websites, mobile apps, or IVR voice portals. The alternative was to wait on hold to speak with a representative, or do the same on web chat.
Customer Support Chatbots allow the customer to take the question “as is” and put it into a message, then receive a response instantaneously. A combination of Artificial Intelligence and rules-based Natural Language Understanding techniques can attempt to interpret the question and answer it automatically. If the answer to a question requires the system to ask a few questions first (such as “what is your order number?”), it can engage in a short conversation with the customer before looking up the answer from the enterprise backend system. If the bot cannot successfully discern user intent, or answer the customer’s question, it can “transfer” the dialog to a customer service representative in the contact centre (traditional call centre or Customer Engagement Centre), either by continuing the chat in the messaging system of the customer’s choice, or moving it over to the voice channel, e.g. by means of a callback.
Applied to customer service, chatbots are also known as Interactive Text Response, a text-based version of well-known Interactive Voice Response, with all of its value propositions but a better consumer appeal, tapping into the 1+ billion users of services such as Facebook Messenger.