2019

PROGRESS REPORT

TECHNOLOGY

Chatbot Chatter

More businesses exploring how chatbots can help save money, boost customer service

Over the past few years, the word "chatbot" has become a buzzword in the tech industry, especially in relation to how they may improve customer service.

Chatbots are sophisticated computer programs that use artificial intelligence (AI) to simulate a text-based conversation with a person.

Text messaging, Facebook Messenger and individual apps are the most common ways people interact with chatbots.

Thanks to this technology, customers aren’t limited to standard business hours to contact organizations to get some of their questions answered.

Organizations increasingly are embracing chatbots because they allow them to provide continuous customer service faster and more efficiently than ever before. Additionally, chatbots have risen in popularity due to their potential to save organizations money.

But will customer service suffer as more and more organizations move away from the human touch in favor of cost effectiveness and efficiency?

Healthcare and banking

According to a recent study by Juniper Research, the healthcare and banking industries are primed to see the largest benefit by using chatbots because they handle such huge volumes of human interaction.1

Juniper’s research predicts that by 2022, chatbots will save organizations more than $8 billion annually worldwide by significantly reducing the amount of time it takes to resolve customer inquiries.2

A survey by Personetics indicated 46% of financial institutions either are using or actively working on chatbot programs, and 41% have plans to implement chatbots in the future.3

The initial use of chatbots in the banking industry was somewhat basic—they answered only simple financial questions. Their capabilities have expanded since then.

In an effort to improve its customer service, Wells Fargo & Co., for example, is piloting a chatbot using Facebook Messenger that answers customer questions regarding balances inquiries, ATM locations and resetting passwords.4

"AI technology allows us to take an experience that would have required our customers to navigate through several pages on our website, and turn it into a simple conversation in a chat environment," said Steve Ellis, head of Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group.5

Capital One Financial Corp. also launched its own chatbot earlier this year. The chatbot, named Eno, interacts with customers via text message, providing account balance updates. Customers can also pay off credit cards through the chatbot.6

JPMorgan Chase unveiled a chatbot, but for use on the back end of its operations. Dubbed COIN (short for Contract Intelligence), it automates the time-consuming task of reviewing commercial loan agreements. Lawyers and loan officers spend 360,000 hours annually reviewing these documents, which COIN can do in just seconds. Not only is the chatbot faster and more efficient, but it’s also more accurate.7

In the financial industry, the goal is for chatbots to evolve into sophisticated customer service agents that can track a customer’s credit score, keep track of his or her budget, analyze his or her spending and make payments, among other things.8

Other financial institutions using chatbots include MasterCard, Bank of America and American Express.

Healthcare

Banks aren’t the only type of business looking to expand operations and squash inefficiencies by using chatbot technology. Many healthcare-related organizations also are using chatbots to make their services more accessible and affordable:

  • London-based consultant Babylon Health has developed a chatbot patients can interact with to determine what course of action they should take based on symptoms they are experiencing. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, the chatbot can advise patients to simply stay home, visit their doctor or go to a pharmacy for an over-the-counter remedy. In more advanced testing, the chatbot has been able to accurately diagnose 80% of illnesses, and it can do so faster than human doctors.9
  • HealthTap, a digital health company, has a similar chatbot patients can interact with via Facebook Messenger. If patients don’t get the answer they need from the chatbot, they also have the option to submit their questions to one of 100,000 physicians participating with HealthTap.10
  • A chatbot therapist known as Woebot was developed by Stanford psychologists and AI experts.11 It checks up on its users once a day and helps them manage their mental health through daily conversations, mood tracking, word games and other features. At about $40 per month, Woebot is cheaper than visiting a traditional therapist and, according to its creators, could be even better than a traditional therapist.12
  • Joy is a similar Facebook Messenger chatbot that helps users track their mental health. It checks in daily and, depending on how user is feeling, provides tips and advice on reducing stress and improving mood.13

Healthcare chatbots like these are providing users convenient, free healthcare advice to which they might not otherwise have access. Because many of these apps are accessible via Facebook Messenger, they are readily available to the millions of people who have access to Facebook.14

Augmentation, not replacement

As with any significant advance in technology, many worry what effect chatbots will have on jobs. With the increasing popularity of chatbots, the concern lies primarily in customer service roles.

While some jobs may be lost to chatbots, the loss won’t be significant, some say. The main benefit of chatbots will be significantly reducing customer service costs and acting as a resource to aid existing customer service agents.15, 16

"Most skepticism comes from the fact that we’ve read a lot of fiction about robots," said Ross Goodwin, a data scientist who specializes in AI. "AI taking everyone’s jobs makes a good story; but less of a good story is AI helping people in mundane, simple ways."17

While chatbots might be the initial contact for customers, the complexity and nuance of many customer inquiries will eventually lead to a human customer service representative stepping in to answer questions.18

As is typical with any sort of revolution, the chatbot revolution won’t replace human customer service representatives entirely, experts say. Rather, chatbots will change the customer service role as defined today.

In the healthcare field, for instance, using chatbots to assist doctors in diagnosing patients allows the doctors to take better care of their patients.19 Instead of spending crucial time figuring out what is wrong with a patient, for example, doctors can focus on treatment.

So, while chatbots may be able to assist with simple things like balance inquiries for bankers and simple healthcare questions for those seeking medical advice, they are most beneficial as a tool to aid human customer service representatives and healthcare providers in providing better, more efficient service and care.20

—compiled by Lindsay Dal Porto, assistant editor

References

  1. "Chatbots, a Game Changer for Banking & Healthcare, Saving $8 billion Annually by 2022," juniperresearch.com, May 9, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7fshwp3.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Jim Marous, "Financial Institutions Bullish on Chatbots," thefinancialbrand.com, Jan. 30, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/ybs8o6g2.
  4. Anna Irrera, "Wells Fargo Tests Facebook Chatbot," reuters.com, Apr. 18, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/m4cmzgy.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Anna Irrera, "Capital One Launches Eno, Gender-Neutral Virtual Assistant," reuters.com, Mar. 10, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/yd5jmjmr.
  7. Hugh Son, "JPMorgan Software Does in Seconds What Took Lawyers 360,000 Hours," bloomberg.com, Feb. 27, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/jc3lppe.
  8. Nathaniel Popper, "Banks Bet on the Next Big Thing: Financial Chatbots," nytimes.com, Oct. 26, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/yasts8h7.
  9. Katharine Gammon, "AI Chatbots Are Shaking Up the Workforce in Some Unexpected Ways," nbcnews.com, Mar. 27, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y6um8one.
  10. Ken Yeung, "HealthTap Launches Facebook Messenger Bot That Provides Fast Access to Health Care," venturebeat.com, July 13, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/ycxpwz26.
  11. Megan Molteni, "The Chatbot Therapist Will See You Now," wired.com, June 7, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y95tfdg8.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Jordan Davidson, "Facebook Messenger Chatbot, Joy, Wants to Help People Improve Their Mental Health," themighty.com, July 27, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/y8n73dgp.
  14. Yeung, "HealthTap Launches Facebook Messenger Bot That Provides Fast Access to Health Care," see reference 10.
  15. David Geer, "Chatbots vs. Humans: Who Will Win the War?" thenextweb.com, June 10, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y8oa4ds8.
  16. Parmy Olson, "Could Chat Bots Replace Human Jobs?" forbes.com, May 9, 2016, https://tinyurl.com/y8klxxb3.
  17. Gammon, "AI Chatbots Are Shaking Up the Workforce in Some Unexpected Ways," see reference 9.
  18. Geer, "Chatbots vs. Humans: Who Will Win the War?" see reference 15.
  19. Gammon, "AI Chatbots Are Shaking Up the Workforce in Some Unexpected Ways," see reference 9.
  20. Geer, "Chatbots vs. Humans: Who Will Win the War?" see reference 15.

ASQ WORLD CONFERENCE

Argentinian Manufacturer Achieves Gold Status

Sullair Argentina, a manufacturer, distributor and renter of equipment for construction and power generation industries, was awarded gold-level status in ASQ’s International Team Excellence Awards process for demonstrating how it improved productivity and efficiency.

Four other teams were recognized during this year’s presentation at ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement in May in Charlotte, NC. The teams are:

  • Sime Darby Plantation Sdn. Bhd. (Malaysian equivalent to "Inc.") Blue Ocean team, Malaysia (silver-level status).
  • Jabil Circuit, Jabil Wuxi quality team, China (bronze-level status).
  • Jabil Circuit, Nypro Shanghai finance team, China (bronze-level status).
  • Max Life Insurance Co. Ltd., a team established to improve seven calendar day turnaround time for its policy servicing, India (bronze-level status).

A total of 23 teams from eight countries competed for gold, silver and bronze status. About 3,000 people attended this year’s conference. Next year’s event is scheduled for April 30-May 2, 2018, in Seattle. For more information, visit http://asq.org/wcqi.

Thought leaders recognized

Also at this year’s world conference, ASQ presented its Distinguished Service Medal and other society medals and awards. The 20 medal and award recipients honored were:

Distinguished Service Medal: Robert E. King, GOAL/QPC (retired), IAQ Publications, Salem, NH.

Crosby Medal: Roderick Munro, RAM Q Universe Inc., Lewes, DE; Daniel J. Zrymiak, Accenture, Surrey, BC; and Govind Ramu, SunPower Corp., San Jose, CA.

Deming Medal: David Langford, Langford International Inc., Molt, MT.

Feigenbaum Medal: Alessio Griffoni, OSRAM SpA, Treviso, Italy.

Grant Medal: John Vandenbemden, Q-Met-Tech LLC, Union, KY.

Freund-Marquardt Medal: Nigel Howard Croft, Campinas, Brazil.

Hromi Medal: C. Robert Pennella, U.S. Department of Defense (retired), Springfield, NJ.

Hutchens Medal: Marty T. Neese, SunPower Corp.

Juran Medal: Jack Welch, Jack Welch Management Institute, Herndon, VA.

Lancaster Medal: Elizabeth M. Keim, Integrated Quality Resources LLC, Niwot, CO.

Shainin Medal: Craig Hysong, Shainin, Detroit.

Shewhart Medal: David M. Steinberg, Tel Aviv University, Israel.

Brumbaugh Award: R. Jock Mackay and Stefan Steiner, University of Waterloo, Canada; and Yi Lu, University of Toronto.

Gryna Award: Brandon Phillips, Texas A&M University-Central Texas, Killeen, TX; Daniel Peak, University of North Texas, Denton; and Victor R. Prybutok, University of North Texas.


OBITUARY

Former Board Member Dies

Dick McKeever, an ASQ fellow and former board member, died last month after a long battle with cancer. McKeever, a 19-year member of ASQ’s Cincinnati Section, served on the ASQ board from 2005 to 2009.

Mike Nichols, a former ASQ president, called McKeever "humble yet passionate, dedicated and always willing to help, a model of what a volunteer leader should be." McKeever’s family requested memorial donations be made to Hospice of Cincinnati—Blue Ash. For more information, visit www.hospiceofcincinnati.org.


RESEARCH

Business, Innovation Strategies Often Don’t Align: Report

Most companies—an estimated 54%—struggle to align their business and innovation strategies, leaving many of them flying blind as they place bets on innovation, a new study released last month asserts.

The PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) benchmarking report, the result of a survey of 1,200 global executives and business leaders, also found strategy, not size of investment, is the greatest determining factor in the success of an innovation initiative.

"It’s critical for executives and business leaders to meet innovation challenges head on, but oftentimes, they are unsure of how or where to begin," said Volker Staack of PwC, a co-author of the report.

For more from the study, visit http://tinyurl.com/pwc-innovation-study.


Report Details OEM Water Use

A new white paper addresses water use by original equipment manufacturers, identifying leading practices and areas for improvement, and recommending how to extend these practices to an automotive supply chain. The research, titled "Automotive Water Benchmarking," was prepared by the Automotive Industry Action Group and can be downloaded at http://tinyurl.com/OEM-water-report.


New @ ASQ

The ASQ Reliability Division will host a webinar titled "Communicating Reliability and Risk to Decision Makers" at 9 a.m. PST Thursday, Aug. 10. Jorge Luis Romeu, a research professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Syracuse University in New York, will lead the event. For more information, visit http://asqrd.org.


Getting to Know …

Abbas Saghaei

Current position: Associate professor in industrial engineering, Islamic Azad University’s science and research branch in Tehran, Iran.

Education: Doctorate in industrial engineering at Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran.

What was your introduction to quality? In 1994, I learned the seven quality tools related to ISO 9001’s statistical techniques clause. From there, I continued to study quality through lean Six Sigma.

Previous noteworthy jobs: I’m a founding member of Iran’s Quality Management Association, established in 1997.

What’s the best advice you ever received? The best advice I’ve ever received is from Thomas Edison: "Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."

Outside activities: Teaching quality concepts should start much earlier during childhood, so I’m introducing and translating the most appropriate books for children on quality-related subjects. I am also a member of the board of directors of Parsian Quality and Productivity Research Center.

Any recent honors or awards? Elected to ASQ’s 2017 class of fellows.

Have you ever written an article? I have had more than 20 books published, including Statistical Analysis of Profile Monitoring (John Wiley & Sons, 2011), which I co-authored.

Are you active on social media? I am regularly on Instagram and LinkedIn. Of course, Telegram is more popular in my country. I have created a Telegram Group called "Quality Learning," which has about 4,000 members. Some programs and issues related to quality are presented and discussed in this group every week, such as reading articles, watching movies and reviewing the issues of my country from the perspective of quality.

Personal: I am married and have three sons: ages 5, 8 and 11.

What do you do for fun? I love traveling to different countries and visiting tourist attractions. I also like relaxing on the weekends and spending time with family or watching movies.

What’s the last movie you’ve seen? "The Salesman," which recently won the Academy Award for best foreign language film. I also collect films related to quality, management and business.

Quality quote: Quality is more about results than presentation. It’s substance over style, not the other way around.


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