Companies embrace chatbots, but only a step at a time

  • Two companies approach chatbots with right strategies in mind
  • Chatbots still very rudimentary; some ways to go but piloting is key


Companies embrace chatbots, but only a step at a time


Companies embrace chatbots, but only a step at a time A LITTLE over a year ago, I commented on how enterprises are beginning to turn to chatbots in today’s business environments in a bid to streamline their operations and improve business efficiencies thereby giving them an edge over competitors.

Two things led to that piece. The first is that I’ve noticed that more and more consumer electronics makers are introducing virtual voice assistance into their smartphones. The second is that companies like Amazon Web Services Inc, whose yearly re:Invent conference I had just attended in 2016, introduced its chatbot services dubbed Amazon Lex.

Amazon Lex is supposedly able to let anyone build a conversational interface into any type of app. Developers, for instance, could build a mobile sales force app that has a conversational interface that pulls data from their database when they’re out in the field and sales agents can ‘converse’ with the app instead of typing their request onto a device.

Fifteen months is a pretty long time in technology terms. Since then, a lot of companies have progressed quite a bit on this front.

For instance, Singapore’s largest bank DBS Bank launched its chatbot in January 2017 as did consumer electronics giant Philips NV, which did so for its lighting division in Singapore last April.

On the home front, financial services players such as RHB Bank Bhd, AIA Bhd and Hong Leong Bank Bhd have all launched their versions of their chatbots, with varying capabilities in the past year alone.

Hong Leong chatbot called HALI, for example, purports to aid human resource and branch operations by answering staff queries on policies and procedures, a function the company said was previously undertaken by staff members from the two divisions.

It claims to be able to automate thousands of queries asked every month by bank staff, wading through enquiries such as HR policies & procedures, medical benefits, staff loans, leave policy, and payroll.

Just to be clear: A chatbot is an automated response system that utilises software that has been coded to simulate human conversations or interactions that take place on devices and robots. It is much more spontaneous, unlike the interactive voice response (IVR) system used in many companies today, which is often cumbersome and frustrating for users to interact with.

It’s encouraging to see that Malaysian companies have taken the evolution to chatbots seriously. In my commentary last year, I suggested companies not take a ‘wait and see’ approach but rather proactively engage such technologies, especially given that there is nothing to stop Southeast Asia-based (SEA) companies from trying out these technologies instead of waiting for the West to lead the way.

Among other things, I argued that when undertaking such a project, there needs to be more than just a desire to build a ‘cool product’ for the sake of doing so. There should be an underlying goal in mind for any company building a chatbot. There should be a roadmap of where one is and should be going, and steps that outline how to get there.

Companies looking into chatbots should not only have the desire to innovate but establish dedicated teams that would look into such technologies, plan for it, and have the backing of the whole company – especially top management – behind the project.

They should also shop around and partner with vendors who can aid them in their goals and not let them decide what they need; instead they should lead the way, dictating how they want to design and implement such services.

And finally, they should always be progressive as to how to improve their chatbot, and as such a chatbot project shouldn’t be an end in itself but part of a journey to bigger and broader aims for the company in question.

Next page: Move ahead, but wisely


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