back to article Customer service chatbot sector forecast to be worth $7bn this year

Conversations with chatbots are still pretty clumsy today, but they're improving – especially in customer service – and could be worth big money. The machine learning software powering these services is allowing companies to tailor general customer service chatbots on their own data. These agents can provide more helpful …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Alternate Reality?

    I have arrived in an alternate universe without realising it?

    Chatbots are the most useless pile of steaming software code ever conceived or written.

    It's like phoning a company to enquire about something, and having to endure 40 minutes of being on hold listening to "did you know you can use our website to answer almost all of your enquiries...." Really? Do you think I would be wasting my life on hold for 40 minutes if I could do what I want to do on your website? That's why I am fecking well phoning you!

    1. Little Mouse Silver badge

      Re: Alternate Reality?

      As long as a chatbot is also able to give me useful contact details when it knows it can't answer my question then I won't complain too loudly. A few do this, but they're overwhelmingly in the minority.

      The majority of them are just inferior versions of FAQs. At least with an actual FAQ list you know when you've got to the end.

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: Alternate Reality?

        And most FAQ pages are a blend of the stupidly obvious ("your company name is acme, how is acme spelled?"), the fawning ("Q: Do you have a wide range of financial service products? A: Yes, we do! Click here for details") and the utterly useless ("How many liters of water did your new production process save in 2017-18?").

        I reserve most of my ire these days for automated telephone systems. I generally devolve to screaming at them in an attempt to get routed to a real, live, sentient human being. ("I think you want to talk about mortgage products, is that correct?" "NO! FOR HELL'S SAKE, I NEED TO REVERSE A TRANSFER! PUT ME THROUGH TO SOMEONE!" "I heard you say that you want to talk about insurance. Did I get that right?" "AAARGH!" *keels over from aneurysm*)

    2. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Alternate Reality?

      > Chatbots are the most useless pile of steaming software code ever conceived or written.

      I have to agree. The only ones I have been unfortunate enough to encounter are, as far as that experience goes, totally useless.

      I spoke to a woman who had a fairly complicated problem with her electricity bill, and whose first language was not English. She came to our organisation for advice because she said that the company treated her as if she was an idiot, and showed me the webchat as evidence. It was clear that she had been engaged with an idiot bot, which did not understand what she was writing, so it fell back all the time to "I didn't quite get that, please tell me if you are a customer of ePratts". She was so relieved to know that she hadn't been typing at a human, it was pathetic.

    3. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Alternate Reality?

      It's taken a couple of decades for telephone -- "Dial 1 for Useless marketing hype, 2 for more of the same, 3 to hear a garbled version of your last transaction, ... 7 to talk to an actual human (located somewhere in Asia and connected via a noisy phone line)" interfaces to improve to the point where some are actually useful. I've had some success using them instead of chatbots. And there's usually a web interface. About half of those actually work.

      I imagine that in 20 or 30 years many chatbots will actually be useful and we'll be using them instead of whatever dysfunctional technical wonder is going to be their 7-gazillion dollar this year replacement.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Alternate Reality?

        > to improve to the point where some are actually useful

        Oops, a visitor from a different reality! In my experience they are still utterly, totally useless and a terminal waste of time. And there is no reason they might ever improve because:

        - Companies don't want the hassle of supporting customers who have already paid. Either you're buying something, or you are clearly unwelcome, and will be left hanging till you quit.

        - "Bots" are terminally stupid, unless you speak like a TV anchor they won't understand most of the time what you're asking for, and even if they do, they only have a limited amount of options. Here again, either you buy something, or please be so kind to get lost. And don't forget, we value our customers!

        .

        TL;DR: There is no reason an AI (of all things) might be better than the outsourced guy with absolutely no knowledge of the product and just a bad script to follow. But it's way cheaper, so let's pretend it's better.

    4. User McUser

      Re: Alternate Reality?

      Do you think I would be wasting my life on hold for 40 minutes if I could do what I want to do on your website? That's why I am fecking well phoning you!

      The problem is that the 2,000 other people in the phone queue ahead of you didn't bother check the website before calling and need that reminder. Not that they pay attention to it mind you...

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Alternate Reality?

        More likely the other 2,000 people in the queue before you are there because they have also found the website to be useless for their query. The only people who don't know this are managing customer disservice. They think their website does everything the customer should need. They think the reason the telephone queues are so long is that people don't know about the website. If they actually cared they might analyse the queries coming in through the phone to find out whether they could be answered by the site as it stands, what needs to be done to improve in and how to then staff their phones at a level which doesn't result in them claiming they're dealing with the same unusual level of enquires they've had for the last several years.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alternate Reality?

      Did you know, you can use our website to answer all the enquiries we think you are capable of having.

      Did you know, if you come up with an enquiry that we haven't thought of, you can figure out a hack by yourself and publish it somewhere in less time than it takes you to get through to one of our support staff. (Correction: "colleagues". We still pay them peanuts, but we use a fancier word.)

      Did you know, you can even start your own company and compete with us. As we are currently demonstrating, it is easier than you think.

    6. Peter 26

      Re: Alternate Reality?

      We have chat bots being rolled out globally to every country of our company...

      Executives need to roll out something new to get that bonus and lines on their CV claiming to have saved the company money.

      Every time someone asks a chatbot something, gets frustrated and gives up, count that as money saved! Multiply that by every country and think of how much money we can claim to have saved and how many customers we can piss off!

      I've jumped on the bandwagon and have produced a chatbot using Power Automate and Teams internally. It does nothing that couldn't be done in a simple internal web site much easier and cleaner, but management love it and want me to show other countries how to do the same... what have I done? I played the game and now I'm part of the problem!

  2. GioCiampa
    FAIL

    Saves them $935,000...

    Costs us our sanity...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Saves them $935,000...

      .. and loses them plenty customers.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Saves them $935,000...

        Nah, people needing customer service are mostly people who have already paid. Ideally they should go away and leave us alone.

        For the real customers (those who's money we don't yet have) we have everything required, a shiny website with every information you might need to be persuaded, not to mention a bunch of competent sales persons just waiting to spend time with you.

        It's a popular misconception that a company's goal is customer satisfaction. It might have been true in the past, but for at least half a century the one and only goal is sales, money. Customer satisfaction is totally useless, in our mobile and globalized society you can instantly reach millions of potential customers, so who cares if you annoy a couple? Fish in the sea and all that.

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    "LiveStory"

    And the abomination has started. Soon, the more mentally fragile among us will be talking to their deceased loved ones on a screen, and shutting out the rest of the world to assuage their pain instead of learning to deal with it.

    This company should be banned and shut down along with any other company that tries to do the same.

    The psychological damage this will do will be uncalculable.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: "LiveStory"

      I'll believe they've got this right if they can produce a deep-fake of my grandmother (d1960) which can explain the family story of her being sent to New York to try to break up her courtship with my grandfather: what ship she sailed on and who she stayed with. I won't be holding my breath.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: "LiveStory"

      > Soon, the more mentally fragile among us will be talking to their deceased loved ones

      I definitely agree, but I'm sure about half the customers will be wanting smut: Send in a picture of your desired [something] and have them make it whisper hot stuff to you...

  4. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge
    Stop

    Fake news

    How about a GIF of a rich and deceased uncle mouthing "I leave all my money to my nephew, Insert NameHere".

    Seriously, I think this is creepy, literally putting words into people's mouths. Eughhh.

  5. Death Boffin
    Boffin

    A.C. Clarke strikes again

    So this company is producing Harry Potter style pictures?

    Sufficiently advanced technology truly is indistinguishable from magic (!/?)

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: A.C. Clarke strikes again

      Except, through a mechanism unexplained, those portraits had memories and personalities. This system won't have that, so it will either just say what it was told to say, making your deceased loved ones into puppets, or use some GPT-style bot to decide on things to say, turning them into clones of a malfunctioning robot. I don't think the business spent much time deciding whether this was a good thing. Most likely, their customers will get something they didn't expect which will be disconcerting or harmful.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: A.C. Clarke strikes again

        > spent much time deciding whether this was a good thing

        Come on, it's just another solution in search of a problem: We make deepfakes, who can we (legally) sell them to? "Legally" means the copied victim shouldn't be able to sue, and dead people usually don't. Their family might, but if they are the ones paying for it, you're safe.

  6. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Stop

    Dead relatives appear to speak and move in AI deepfakes

    No. Just No.

  7. trevorde Silver badge

    IBM Chatbot

    [IBM] Hello, how may I help you? Please enter your date of birth so I can customise my answers.

    [customer] January 26, 1989

    [IBM] I'm sorry. You are over 25 years old and I am terminating this conversation. Please try again when you are an 'Early Professional Hire'.

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: IBM Chatbot

      Ouch. Well played!

  8. Howard Sway Silver badge

    All you need to create your own so-called LiveStory clip is to upload a photo of your loved one

    Presumably you can upload any old photo of anyone you want to this.

    Like maybe a photo of an old boss, so you can have a video of them talking about their hobby of harming kittens, committing large scale fraud and having been convicted of numerous unsavoury offences.

  9. Dwarf Silver badge

    Chatbots are pointless

    I've never ever had a good outcome from an interaction with them. Finding ways to ask it "Let me speak to a human" is always the right way to go.

    The AliExpress one is the worst I've had to endure so far, its a bit like Alexa - you might as well be talking to a relative with Alzheimer's as it can't remember what you said to it in the previous sentence, let alone the ones before that. So much for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

    I just hope that the companies realise that these are a total waste of time and should be turned off.

    I bet that the $7bn figure was plucked from the a$$ of some marketing droid with no information to back it up.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Chatbots are pointless

      "I bet that the $7bn figure was plucked from the a$$ of some marketing droid with no information to back it up."

      Close. It's from Gartner.

    2. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Chatbots are pointless

      "I just hope that the companies realise that these are a total waste of time and should be turned off."

      Unfortunately, from the company perspective chat bots very much not a waste of time - customer queries are the waste of time. If customers just paid up and shut up, life would be so much easier, but there has to be a semblance of "support" fro PR purposes, otherwise the share price might take a hit. However, that simulacrum of support must be as cheap as possible to deliver as it's a pure cost centre.

  10. Il'Geller

    Remember I told that I own Internet and database industry? Now you see why…

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