Chatbots are changing the customer service game. Here’s what you need to know.
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As the world moves towards cutting-edge technologies – everything from metaverse to tensor holography – people wonder whether or not they will have a positive impact. Chatbots in particular have been a recent topic of discussion as they increasingly infiltrate our lives and continue to evolve during the current global health crisis.
While there are always downsides associated with these technologies, chatbot apps have several positive implications that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Chatbots in the field of mental health
Due to the current global health crisis, millions of people around the world are suffering from depression. In some countries, people in isolation or quarantine have found conversational chatbots helpful. One such app is Microsoft’s China-based chatbot, Xiaoice. Customers chat and joke with the chatbot, which they refer to as a “dear friend”.
Xiaoice was first developed in 2014 and its sixth generation was released in 2016. Microsoft News reports, “Sometimes sweet, sometimes sassy, and always resourceful, this virtual teen has her own opinions and acts resolutely like no other bot. There are 660 million users worldwide. In July 2021, Xiaoice’s valuation reached $1 billion and it has now been spun off from Microsoft.
In 2016, as Xiaoice grew in popularity in Asia, Microsoft introduced the chatbot Tay to the United States, then pulled it from the market within 24 hours because of Tay’s controversial tweets, which caused “damage to relationships public”. Microsoft acknowledged the inappropriateness of chatbot Tay’s tweets and apologized to the public.
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Woebot, another mental health chatbot, is also gaining traction, but users of such platforms are far fewer in the United States than in China. The adoption rate of mental health chatbots is much lower in the Western region. One reason for this difference could be that there is limited data on whether or not patient outcomes related to mental health issues are improved using these chatbots.
There is no doubt that in the near future, in order to combat the growing rise of depression in the face of the lack of providers, the shortage of staff and the overwhelming demands of health systems associated with the ongoing health crisis, these chatbots or virtual mental health workers could be programmed to serve as virtual psychologists. They could be part of custom integrated technology solutions so users don’t rely solely on chatbots or AI to solve their mental health issues.
Chatbots in Retail
There has also been a recent increase in the use of chatbots in online retail. Online retailers such as Amazon and Alibaba have integrated chatbots to provide faster and more efficient service to the millions of additional customers shopping online during lockdowns. They handle sophisticated tasks such as refunds, product exchanges, and locating missing products, providing 24/7 hands-on support and meeting customer needs. Many customers prefer the option of fast service via a chatbot rather than waiting for a human agent to respond.
Now, chatbots offer convenient ways to do online banking, learn languages, plan trips, and more. Plus, a Whole Foods Market chatbot has even made its way into our kitchens. The Whole Foods chatbot brings the long-awaited taste experience of restaurateurs and foodies right into the home, providing customers with research-based recipes of interest using keywords or food emojis. Recipes can be customized to meet specific needs such as a vegan or gluten-free diet, which makes our life in the kitchen more convenient and could possibly help people struggling with obesity.
Related: The rise of chatbots
Concerns about chatbot apps
Besides convenience, these chatbots also have security and privacy issues. Given the frequency of data breaches and cyberattacks in the tech industry, it’s likely that chatbots are also at risk. It is also possible that the selection of data used to train these chatbots is biased in favor of certain populations.
Other concerns include the socio-economic impact on human society, such as increased unemployment. According to a McKinsey report, “Around 22% of jobs in Europe (or 53 million) could be automated by 2030”. Similarly, a recent World Economic Forum report states, “The workforce is automating faster than expected, shedding 85 million jobs over the next five years.
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The convenience of new technologies always comes with concerns about their effects. It is also possible that the use of conversational AI applications and chatbots limits human-to-human interactions, thus creating more distance between us. These concerns sometimes hinder the adoption of such advances, but neither should we overlook the many benefits that flow from them.