The web has been a fantastic medium for reaching out to potential customers. But one of the problems is that visitors must search on their own for information on a website and try to understand what the messages are. Often, the point of departure is the supplier’s, not the customer’s. As a budding customer one probably has a number of questions that aren’t always answered in one place on a website. And sometimes one can’t find the information at all. The fact is that difficulty navigating is what customers experience as the most frustrating when they visit a website, followed closely by difficulty in finding answers to simple questions.1
It seems like the experience that is offered online doesn’t live up to customers’ expectations anymore. What we need is another more human-like interface, that can understand what we want. This is where chat bots and voice assistants make their entrance. Let’s begin by describing chat bots. The basic idea behind these is that they can manage initial customer contacts through a conversation. It is about guiding visitors, giving them correct answers to questions, and providing them with more information or links to relevant documents or videos.
An example is the company Website Hosting Insider, which is a broker service that helps companies to find the right web hotel. They have created a chat bot, called Winnie. The bot asks what type of web hosting the visitor is looking for, what their budget is, if they have specific demands for the platform and their anticipated number of visitors. If the customer doesn’t understand a question, such as “Will you use Wordpress?,” there is the possibility of immediately getting an introduction to Wordpress and why it may be useful to use. After a customer has answered all of the questions, Winnie presents a limited number of web hotel suggestions based on their requirements. Since the launch of the chat bot their statistics show that an entire 72 percent of visitors proceed to click on one of the suggested web hotels.2
Several Swedish companies now use chat bots, including Swedbank’s Nina and SEB’s customer-service assistant Aida. Aida is available around the clock, both for personnel and for customers. And when she learns something she remembers it. She doesn’t get tired like a human, and can answer the same question 1,000 times regardless of what time it is.
The share of customers that have used chat bots is still relatively low – in the USA the number is 15 percent – but the potential is expected to be large.3 In a study by the software company Hubspot, 40 percent of respondents indicated that it doesn’t matter if a chat bot or a human handles their contact, and almost half say that they are willing to make purchases from a chat bot.4 Twenty-four-hour service and quick answers to simple questions are given as the most enticing advantages.
Something that may have even more potential than chat bots is voice assistants. These already exist in many smartphones, with names like Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft) and Bixby (Samsung). About 20 percent of all Google searches from cellphones already occur by voice and, even if there isn’t a consensus, prognoses for 2020 are between 30 and 50 percent.5 The development depends not on the technology for voice recognition as one might expect, but on actual understanding, that is, the artificial intelligence behind it.
Fifty percent of all searches made on cell phones will be voice-based within three years. | Dr Peter Cahill, founder and CEO, Voysis
We can add smart speakers to this, where Amazon’s product Echo has had the highest penetration. The idea is that these should make life easier for us, both at home and at work, by our talking to them. They become a form of assistant that can make appointments for meetings, send email, provide weather reports, turn on your favorite music, reserve a taxi and turn off lights. In addition, they are being used increasingly for shopping. The phenomenon has been given the epithet conversation commerce. The voice-activated interface seems to also stimulate simpler and multiple purchases – people who own Amazon’s smart speaker Echo spend more than 50 percent more per year on purchases from Amazon. In the USA, 50 million people already have access to a smart speaker, and one fifth of these have also used one to purchase something.6
Amazon already has plans for the business segment with “Alexa for Business.” With this solution one can create unique comments with pre-defined functions such as appointment making, reporting problems, help for new employees or ordering office materials. As a sales rep one can quickly check inventory levels and sales statistics. The goal is that the products and services that one offers will be provided with a voice experience where one can get more information or support. These voice services from third parties can very possibly become just as ordinary as having a website or having a presence on Facebook. Companies like H&M have already implemented this using Google’s solution.7
What can slow this development is that B2B sales are often complex and sometimes it takes weeks or months of meetings, conversations and dealings to arrive at a decision. So far, we haven’t seen a voice assistant deliver an entertaining lunch conversation. B2B sales require social competence, intuition and improvisation – things that machines are notoriously bad at.
2 Brooks, A. (2018, 12 April). 5 B2B chatbot case studies: Do chatbots increase conversions?. [blog post]. Downloaded 2018-10-22 from: https://www.ventureharbour.com/5-b2b-chatbot-case-studies-do-chatbots-increase-conversions/
4 Debecker, A. (2017). 2018 chatbot statistics – all the data you need. Downloaded 2018-10-22 from: https://blog.ubisend.com/optimise-chatbots/chatbot-statistics
5 Sentence, R. (2018). The Future of Voice Search: 2020 and beyond. Downloaded 2018-10-22 from https://econsultancy.com/the-future-of-voice-search-2020-and-beyond/
6 Perez, S. (2018, 7 March). 47.3 million U.S. adults have access to a smart speaker, report says. [blog post]. Downloaded 2018-10-22 from: https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/07/47-3-million-u-s-adults-have-access-to-a-smart-speaker-report-says/
7 Nilsson, S. (2018). Storföretagen hoppar på direkt nu när Google kan prata
svenska. Computer Sweden. Available: https://computersweden.idg.se/2.2683/1.705654/sj-hm-ica-google-assistant