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Chatbot Technology: Taking Advantage of AI’s Influence on Customer Interaction

Alon Cohen

Vice President and CTO at Phone.com
Alon Cohen is the vice president and CTO of Phone.com, as well as an entrepreneur, inventor and creator of the VoIP industry. Alon co-founded VocalTec Communications, the first company to provide internet voice technology worldwide, and one of the earliest successful internet IPOs. He is also the author of five U.S. communication technology patents and one of the first two inductees in the VoIP Hall of Fame.

Chatbot technology is nothing new — what’s new is the growing number of industries that are now able to take advantage of it. From taking a pizza order to building a strong financial portfolio, artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbot technology is becoming more functional and more prevalent than ever before.

AI-capable machines can infer new things based on what they already know, and that ability has the potential to improve performance for almost any small business. But today, there is no arena more poised for AI-driven reinvention than customer service. This technology is poised to fundamentally change the way startups and their customers interact.

Talking the talk

Improving communication is ultimately a matter of ensuring knowledge doesn’t sit dormant in an organization — and that the organization’s priorities are updated as quickly as its information is. Managers need swift, accurate feedback on results to adjust and optimize plans and directions, and if AI can provide that, it will help us navigate the business world better than ever before.

And we’re already on our way. Companies like Maluuba are now focusing their AI development efforts on unlocking an elusive piece of the puzzle: the capacity for bots to understand conversational dialogue. Since each part of a conversation builds on what came before it, networks must identify and remember patterns across many different streams of data.

Maluuba is experimenting with a strategy called reinforcement learning, in which an AI system reports the same task repeatedly, keeping track of what works and what doesn’t. This is the same method by which an AI system can learn chess — playing games against itself over and over again and remembering the outcomes. If a machine can apply that same learning method to communication, the potential benefits for small businesses are limitless.



Tapping into chatbot technology’s potential

What we see in most consumer devices utilizing chatbot technology today isn’t really learning. Instead, it’s a glorified FAQ database, with a few more answers added with each update. But the barrage of inputs funneled into so-called AI devices like Alexa, Google Home, and Siri — combined with the proper back-end learning technology — will enable them to continuously become smarter and smarter.

Researchers’ next big goal is to break down complex language into digestible data for AI systems. Communicating with machines using language will enable a whole slew of new AI developments and applications, and leaders in the industry think the solution might be on the horizon.

With that in mind, startup teams should take a few steps now to position themselves for that future, particularly in the areas of customer service and internal communication:

  1. Hop on the bandwagon. Integrating today’s state-of-the-art offerings (including AI systems like Alexa) will allow businesses to learn the market and gain experience deploying AI in their organizations. This will help leaders identify other tools that might benefit employees or users, as well as help them learn how to use AI to improve the customer service experience.
  2. Keep the human element. Maintaining open lines of communication between “real” and “artificial” intelligence is key to gaining rich insights from AI processes. The ability to quickly aggregate and analyze disparate data is one of AI’s great strengths, but it’s important to remember that putting that data into context still requires a human touch. Businesses that incorporate AI systems into existing processes should likewise create functions and roles that serve as liaisons between technology and humans within the organization.
  3. Prepare for the long haul. It’s important to keep in mind that any short-term gains from AI integration will only be incremental. The real dream of AI is a machine that doesn’t just learn from its experiences, but also improves and refines its mission based upon that learning. The same should be true of a business organization. Initial implementation of AI systems is more about the realization of long-term benefits as the technology’s usefulness evolves.


AI development is moving along at a rapid pace. The technology may have a long way to go, but incorporating present offerings into your business will help position you to take advantage of what the future holds.

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