What do you think of when you think of artificial intelligence?
If your thoughts veer to the ominous HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, you’re not alone. And yet, in my opinion it’s a mistake for small business owners to avoid investing at least a little bit of time and money in AI. It’s a trend that’s here to stay.
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t some potential downsides to using AI. The most natural application of the technology for small business owners is a chatbot that can augment and improve your customer service. That means the bot would be interacting directly with your customers.
Scary? Maybe a little. But there are some serious benefits to using AI to go along with the risks. It’s important for you to understand both, so you can make an informed decision about whether AI is a worthwhile investment for your business.
The Pros of AI
Let’s start with the good news. Finding ways to have artificial intelligence interact directly with your customers can offer you some big rewards. Here’s what you need to know.
No Holidays or Time Off
The first plus of using AI for customer service is that AI isn’t human. That means it doesn’t need time off. It can be available to your customers around the clock, 365 days a year. If a customer needs help, your chatbot or virtual assistant can be there to offer it.
In the long run, you can save money on customer service because a chatbot can be programmed to handle a high volume of incoming requests and you won’t need to pay it a salary or benefits.
No Human Error
Another big benefit of incorporating AI into your customer service is that it can, if programmed properly, eliminate human error and make your customer interactions completely consistent across the board. That means no more flustered employees or inaccurate responses.
Even the best employee can be forgetful or have a bad day. A chatbot won’t have a bad day because they’re not programmed to have one. You can be sure that every customer who uses your chatbot will get the same professional, accurate information, every time.
Arguably the biggest positive associated with using artificial intelligence is that it can help you collect accurate and actionable data from your customers in real time. Since traditional customer research can take a huge amount of time, this is a huge plus and one that you can definitely use to your advantage.
You can learn which issues are causing trouble for your customers, which products they like the most, and at what times they’re most likely to buy from you. You can also use the data you collect to improve the programming of your chatbots and make your customer service even better than it already is.
What’s your brand’s personality? Whether you’re formal or casual, funny or low-key, you can program your AI solutions with the language and personality that fits your brand. Since it can be difficult to screen employees and figure out how they’ll cope in a high-pressure situation, chatbots can be a good way to even things out.
The beauty of AI programming is that you can build variety and personality in with the right scriptwriters and programmers. You might not be able to imagine a chatbot with personality, but I also think you’ll be surprised by how much can be done with good programming.
These benefits are no joke. If you properly design and program your chatbots, they can help you elevate your customer service, build loyalty, and increase sales.
The Cons of AI
The pros are undeniable, but what are the downsides of having AI interact with your customers? There are several, and not surprisingly, they correlate with the pros I’ve already mentioned.
Round the Clock Monitoring
The first potential downside is related to the 24/7 nature of chatbots. A chatbot, even a well-programmed one, can’t handle every potential customer problem. In fact, part of proper chatbot programming is making sure that the bot knows when and how to get human assistance.
Reading between the lines, then, there’s a need to have a human agent on call to back up the chatbot. That means that you’ll still need some human support and people who are willing to be on call even after hours.
Lack of Improvisation
Chatbot programming can do a lot – but it can’t do everything. In fact, one of the biggest downsides of using AI for customer service is that AI can’t improvise. It can only do what it’s been programmed to do.
In nine out of ten cases, that’s probably going to be fine. But what happens if a customer isn’t fluent in English or asks a question in a way that’s unfamiliar to the bot? You’ve got to be prepared for the likelihood that some customers, some of the time, will find dealing with a bot to be frustrating.
I already told you that AI can collect data and that can be a huge benefit. But, of course, any time you collect data you’ve also got to store data – and that can leave you vulnerable to hacking.
This isn’t really a downside so much as it is a warning. If you are going to use chatbots for your business, make sure to take appropriate security measures and use encryption to protect your valuable data.
The final potential downside is the sort of worst-case scenario that we all think of when we think of AI. It’s that a bad actor could find a way to manipulate your chatbots or virtual agents to make them work in a way that is contrary to your interests.
Some manipulations may be relatively harmless, but the danger is that, since chatbots use machine learning to improve their performance, they may pick up bad habits from some users. You’ll need to be prepared to be on the lookout for problems and correct them immediately.
You’re not hiring HAL…
Using AI to interact with customers can do a great deal to help your business grow. The key is to put yourself in a position to reap the benefits while also protecting yourself from the potential downsides associated with AI.