Thursday, 13th August 2020

Don’t fear the chatbot – it’s here to help

80% of sales and marketing leaders are either already using chatbots as part of their customer experience or plan to do so by 2020. While many see automated assistance as a valuable customer service tool, they also give organisations the opportunity to support employees and their use of technology platforms internally. IT leaders should consider this when they look at the potential of chatbots. By Pete Kinder, chief technical officer at Wax Digital.

Take eProcurement; any organisation that has taken a digital approach to its buying processes could benefit from chat-based support for employees when they use the purchasing software. Like many technology platforms, eProcurement is used across a number of departments and by employees without detailed procurement knowledge. However, chatbots aren’t everyone’s favourite thing. A survey of 5,000 people found that 56% still prefer to speak with a human rather than receiving automated assistance. For this reason, IT professionals should put careful thought into their choice of chatbot technology to boost employees’ effective use of the system.

Given that many IT systems, including eProcurement tools, use Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve user experience, chatbots will encourage employees to ask questions and get insightful responses. Some chatbots might take a step further and detect whenever a user needs help and automatically give advice. Advanced eProcurement systems track how people operate the system, and utilise that learning to advise future users on how to perform certain actions better.

For example, the platform might acquire intelligence on how particular invoices are being coded, which then inform users how to insert the statement into the system in future scenarios and avoid simple mistakes. Chatbots allow users to not only receive support in navigating the technology more effectively, but also ask specific questions about the system using a touchless user interface. Employees could enquire about historical spending data over a certain period and ask questions such as ‘How much did we spend on IT software in Q3,’ by simply speaking to the eProcurement system.

It’s not only buyers using eProcurement tools that can benefit from chatbots – suppliers can gain from it too. Businesses often reject invoices due to errors, which delays payment. Using chatbots, suppliers can query why invoices haven’t been paid and the eProcurement system can flag an incorrect invoice; enabling them to resolve the issue more quickly.

As stated, a basic chatbot isn’t enough to support a complex software platform. This is because of how unnatural and limited the pre-programmed responses are. Advanced chatbots can have dozens of responses to one question coded into the software, and AI can determine the right one to use based on the type of user and the emotional state that they’re in. For example, if somebody uses a lot of tech speak, chatbots can respond in the same vernacular and use AI searches to automatically replace words with synonyms.

Similarly, if a chatbot user is getting angry with technology not working properly, AI can detect that in the choice of language and ensure that the chatbot’s response has a tone of voice that doesn’t patronise or aggravate the person further.

eProcurement is used across many departments and has several user types with different privileges. Some might be able to buy items, while others can only retrieve certain information held in the system. The chatbot needs to be programmed to know what different users can view and restrict access accordingly. Without those measures in place, any user from any department can retrieve any information held by the eProcurement system, increasing security risks. For example, if the level of technology expenditure in the past quarter only concerns the IT, finance and procurement departments, parameters can be set to ensure that only they can access the information.

A procurement system that includes a chatbot is a great time saver and helps to improve the use of technology. By ensuring they introduce an intelligent chatbot that gives personal and tailored responses, organisations can be sure that employees and suppliers will regard it as a useful tool and use it to support their eProcurement activity. The introduction of voice-enabled virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa demonstrate that we’re starting to see a culture of employees willing to ask a device questions. Organisations should channel this into chatbot use to make procurement activity more effective and run more smoothly.

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