Yes folks, it’s that time of the year again. Time for magic. Time to look at our crystal balls again. Time to make predictions. Here we go!
Let’s first look back a little. Last year I talked about Messenger Platforms (part 1 and part 2). Messenger platforms have really taken off and are replacing social channels, apps, engagement channels, and websites with their platform. Facebook announced their Chatbot platform. WeChat is continuing their streak with ridiculously high penetration rates in the world’s largest consumer market (read this economist article). Yet at the same time, WhatsApp announced a year back they’d start supporting businesses; we haven’t seen much there yet…
Bringing this to our world of customer service and the contact center; we still see tremendous interest with our customer base in adding messenger channels as a support channel. We also observe that there is more understanding of what it actually means to add these as a customer service channel and that the other side of the coin - the agent experience and how it connects back to your multi-channel service strategy - is considered more. In other words, folks realize that you just can’t say “hey, let’s start with messenger platform for customer support”. You have to first make sure it fits in your multi-channel service platform without costing it you a fortune in integration work. Anyways, that’s 2016. Let’s move to 2017!
In a few years from now we’ll look back and remember 2017 as the year the mobile apps purge happened. In the last few years we’ve heard so much about mobile apps and how it was going to change the world. Buzzwords like the “App Economy” were used in every second sentence. The apps are going to take over the internet, replace websites, because a tailored app would be so much more valuable than this generic website, right? Mobile phone memory was going to grow indefinitely, making room for ever more apps on our devices, etc. A million apps on the app stores, etc.
Sound familiar? Well, we’re certainly using apps more intensively, but I believe we’ll be using less and less apps. So we’ll use less apps more. Consumers are tired of downloading apps for stuff that they only occasionally do or need. A well designed mobile page that’s intuitive and easy to use (big buttons!) will be so much more valuable for consumers.
What about the apps for customer service agents? Also here, I believe such apps will be used increasingly in niche situations - where a very specific requirement commands a mobile app - but by far most customer service professionals will prefer to use devices with more screen real-estate like tablets and PCs.
Security is one of those topics that’s always been there, but in waves appears and disappears from the discussions. With rumours about the US elections being hacked, 1 billion Yahoo! user names stolen and plenty more similar stories, enterprises will continue to tighten their security requirements, something we at Oracle applaud and encourage.
Within the space of customer service, I am predicting that organizations will increase their scrutiny when looking at customer service software purchases. I suspect two things will happen.
First, for a large share of large organizations that are still mostly running on heavy on-premise systems, the discussion of transitioning to the cloud will become more challenged. Just to be clear, I firmly believe that enterprise cloud software - such as what Oracle offers - is in fact more secure than practically all on-premise legacy systems. This, simply for the reason of economies of scale; vendors like Oracle posses vastly more expertise and resources to ensure security than the internal security team of any enterprise business. Still, many folks will just get scared of the Yahoo! hacking stories, and will wrongly believe their data is more secure keeping it in-house.
Second, for the businesses that are in the cloud already - say using point solutions for customer service channels - will increasingly turn to vendors that are more credible security wise.
I predict that as fast as the chatbot hype blew up in 2016 it will deflate in 2017. The promise of chatbots is a very exciting promise.
But we’ve seen similar hypes before. Remember when Apple launched Siri 7 years ago? A lot of people got excited and solutions were put in the market. Every business wanted a speech enabled personal assistant like Siri.
Text based virtual assistants, go back way further and have been around for almost two decades. Just like the Siri type speech-based assistants, they’ve never really taken off. Today’s chatbots are essentially the same Virtual Assistants, but surfaced through different channels (and with better integration frameworks).
The reason it didn’t take off will be the same reason the current chatbot hype will deflate. The hard part with conversational interfaces is language (read this excellent economist briefing if you want to learn more). Understanding what the meaning of the user-input is and what to do with it. The interface and connection has always been the plumbing. The language capabilities behind it defines whether a chatbot is valuable. Anyone can create a bot that does basic keyword understanding and process simple commands, but to make something that actually works and is of value for an enterprise use-case, you need to call in the expensive experts.
I believe that in 2017 the world will realize quickly that in the majority of the cases the on-going costs of deploying and maintaining a chat bot will often exceed the value it actually generates for the business.
Sometimes it can be frustrating to talk to a chatbot.
I’m looking forward to seeing what 2017 brings us! What about you? Can you recognise some of the topics mentioned above? You don’t agree at all? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.