(This article originally appeared in Forbes)
My dog died a few years ago. She was only about 7 years old and had a lot of health problems. I miss her. But one thing I don’t miss: my pharmacy bill.
That’s because Lavender (my wife chose the name, not me) was on no less than seven medications. And a day rarely went by without me a text message from my pharmacist at the CVS near me. It almost always went something like this:
CVS: Hello Lavender, you have a prescription due for a refill. Would you like to refill it? Me (impersonating Lavender because she’s a dog): Yes. CVS: Thank you. (5 minutes later) CVS: Lavender, your prescription does not have any more refills. Would you like us to contact your primary doctor? CVS: Thank you. (2 hours later) CVS: Lavender, your prescription has been renewed and refilled. You can pick it up at our location. CVS: Thank you.
I have hundreds of these interactions and it probably took me a good dozen or so of them to realize that I wasn’t talking to a pharmacist. I was talking to a robot. A chatbot robot. This is not new stuff. Lavender passed almost four years ago. So CVS — and other big brands — have been using this AI-based technology for a while. Not only is it getting better but it’s expected to significantly grow in use, and particularly with small and mid-sized companies like the one I own.
That’s according to new research from ResearchAndMarkets, which projects a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) in the conversational AI market of more than 22 percent over the next few years. Right now the market is about $6.8 billion. By 2026 it’s predicted to expand to more than $18 billion.
And where’s the biggest growth? Small and mid-sized companies, which is projected to record a higher CAGR during the period. This should come as no surprise. As the cloud grows, it is becoming less expensive for even the smallest of companies to collect and analyze data. Many of the leading CRM software vendors — even the ones focused on small firms — are now incorporating chatbots into their applications.
According to an analysis of the report by Destination CRM chatbots “can communicate with mobile users with the help of text messaging, applications, websites, and social media. They help organizations in the real-time monitoring of customer behavior, trends, and interactions. They also track mobile services, such as geolocation, enabling rich, targeted communication based on locations and events.”
The report showed that the customer service segment will “hold the largest market share” because of its importance in meeting the demands of 24/7 support and that “chatbots provide a powerful way to conduct two-way communications by analyzing customer intents, and thus, act as an effective medium to respond to customer requests.”
What does this mean for your company, particularly if you run a smaller firm like mine? Two things.
For starters it’s better customer service. The more you dig into your CRM system’s chatbot capabilities the more you’ll find that these conversational robots can handle basic questions from your customers and prospects quickly and accurately which is exactly what your visitors want. The more steps you take to enable your chatbots to deliver their information via any platform and device the more you can expand your reach. And the more willing you are to deploy the real time 24/7 translation features many of these applications have the better able you’ll be to serve and find customers anywhere around the world.
More importantly — and bluntly — these chatbots are simply replacing people. They cut your overhead. They reduce your costs of employment — wages, benefits, administration, etc. If you ask the management at CVS about this they’ll deny and just say that their AI technology is “helping to improve employee productivity” which, of course, is a bunch of nonsense. Answering basic customer service questions or sales requests is a value-less, skill-less job and it’s being replaced by robots. Hopefully the employees doing this kind of work are realizing this truth and are bumping up their skill set. I know that many of my clients are waking up to this fact. So am I.
Right now, my website has a simple chatbox on it with zero automation. I am going to make some changes this year. My CRM system, which provides this chatbox functionality for my website, has AI-powered features that — with a little bit of effort — can be configured to carry on conversations in advance of escalating a question to someone with more knowledge. It will not be perfect. There will be a learning curve. But I know in this will save my company time and help to cut overhead.
For what it’s worth, we did get a new dog a few months after Lavender passed and he’s doing great.