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Chatbots still have their place, says Microsoft

The early generation of chatbots may have had their day – but the concept is not yet dead, says a senior Microsoft executive. 

Raj Raguneethan, regional business lead, retail and consumer goods, at Microsoft Asia, told Inside Retail Asia that the standard chatbot question and order queue format is gone.

“But we have advanced deployments of chatbot which can fully integrate into the whole call-centre back office and all the way online. You can ask questions, it will connect back to your back office systems tell you when your order is going to be delivered, you can ask questions and it tells you that you can buy this product from this store, and here is a promotion offer for you.”

Early renditions of chatbots often succeeded in only infuriating consumers with clumsy interfaces, irrelevant answers and being all-too-obviously artificial. The end result: consumers often consider old-style chatbots as insincere, an image unsurprisingly transferred to the brand itself.

“We have seen customers continue to use them,” says Raguneethan. “It’s not so much chatbot, it’s about cognitive services which are fully integrated.”

He explains that advanced cognitive services-based solutions which are connected to the same system used by customer call centres, can use chatbots which provide real service and assistance to shoppers. 

“So it’s how you deploy and how you leverage them that is the key. If you just deploy them for an FAQ, it’s probably not interesting. But if you really deploy them connecting into all the systems you have, then you are delivering a superior experience.” 

Raguneethan says new-generation chatbot technology should be able to provide customers with real-time, accurate information about the delivery status of a product they have ordered. 

“Or, I should be able to come in and say ‘I want to buy a shirt, I’m looking for this brand’, you should be able to tell me sorry it’s not here in this store, you can order online, or you can go to this store, or we will place an order for you to pick up from this store.” 

“If you deploy [chatbot technology] in those scenarios, you will definitely see a difference.” 

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