It is high time to face the music. The standoff between BPO companies and chat bots is on. They’re already here; knocking on your digital screens and ‘talking’ to you in a pseudo-language that only the bots can comprehend. Soon, they’re going to knock you off your corporate cradles when you least expect it. What is a chat bot and is it really a threat to companies offering BPO services?
Chat bots, also known as ‘Robotic Process Automation’ (RPA), “works best when the processes are repetitive, rules-based and frequent i.e. those tasks are normally great candidates for outsourcing. [It is developed] to carry out the business process that would normally be done by human beings,” as defined by Robohub. Alright, no doubt these bots can take away providers’ current reign.
As an evidence of what they are capable of, here are some examples:
- Celaton’s inSTREAM = used by Davies Group, a UK insurance company, where a team of just four people can process around 3000 claims documents per day.
- IPsoft’s Eliza = is “virtual service-desk employee” utilized by an American media giant and can answer 62,000 calls a month. It can solve two out of three of the problems without human help.
- Kasisto’s Digibank = rolled out in India, it can process millions of questions from customers which is related to certain banking transactions.
- Amazon’s Echo = is basically an all-around maid—err—virtual assistant. It can play music or audiobook; function as a smart home control hub; assist you in the kitchen (told ya); and can execute IFTTT (“if this, then that”) commands. All you have to do is ask out loud.
The last example is for personal use but it only shows that it can do even the mundane tasks us humans can perform.
By the numbers, how much is at stake? According to Statista, USD 88.9 billion is the total earnings of the BPO industry worldwide in 2015. In a paper entitled ‘Findings from the 2015 IAOP Outsourcing World Summit Service Automation Survey,’ “one source estimates that the salary of a BPO worker may be $60,000 onshore and $23,000 offshore, but a software performing the work of one full time equivalent (FTE) may cost as little as $7,500!” The exclamation point is not ours but it is indeed surprising that a chat bot acquisition is only a third of a monthly salary of a BPO employee.
However, don’t do drastic changes yet because the battle is just getting started. Chat bots are still an emerging technology and it is not yet fully developed. In an experiment by John A. Martin of Five2ndWindow, when he asked the bot of H&M if he could buy a no-iron shirt, it insists to sell him a particular article of clothing. And who doesn’t know Microsoft’s Tay and her racist answers?
What are the other challenges chat bots have to overcome? WildML discussed it as follows:
- It lacks linguistic contextand physical context.
- It can’t produce the same answers to semantically identical inputs.
- You can’t check or evaluate if a chat bot performed its job.
- Its responses are generic or lack variety.
- It is prone to grammatical errors.
In short, as chief scientist Andrew Ng of Baidu explains in his interview in the Seattle Times, RPAs aren’t yet adept in holding a meaningful conversation.
However, we can’t dispute the fact that chat bots could be a threat to BPO companies’ existence. What is the best course of action? If you can’t beat them, integrate them into your processes. Problem solved. We can’t stop developers in creating thousands of chat bots. Based on what we’ve learned so far, RPAs are more cost-effective and doubles the productivity of a company. There is money in the chat bot industry. The truth hurts but we have to accept it and embrace it.
Is this approach plausible? Based on the paper we’ve mentioned above, Brindley of ISG and Burnett of Everest Group has increasingly seen providers incorporate automation into the technical solutions of their service proposal. So, it is considered as an ‘add-on’ feature or service offered by BPO companies. In addition, Mat Honan of BuzzFeed discovered that Facebook’s ‘M’—a chat bot concierge—has its human counterpart.
Yet, don’t put all your resources in automating everything because granting “most clients expect providers to take the lead in service automation…they still focus more on costs and quality of staff when choosing among providers,” as stated in the study.
In a nutshell, we’ve found out that chat bots are not a threat because it can co-exist with BPO companies by means of integration. It doesn’t overshadow the duties of the provider’s staff and instead helps them to streamline their processes. Proceed with caution though as chat bots are still in its infancy. As Five2ndWindow puts it, “an ineffective chat bot can frustrate potential buyer… and harm your reputation.”