I'll admit, I was not always a fan of chatbot platforms. First generation examples were clunky, and the experience wasn’t remotely close to interacting with a human. However, improvements in artificial intelligence are advancing chatbots to the point where they’re becoming increasingly human-like.
That's the point, I suppose. It's also the likely reason that chatbots are becoming so popular. In fact, Gartner Research recently claimed that “By 2020, over 50% of medium-to-large enterprises will have deployed product chatbots”. One area of the enterprise where chatbots are truly taking off is the IT help desk. Let's look at what common tasks chatbots are taking over within the help desk, as well as pros/cons of handing tasks over to an AI.
Examples of what chatbots can do for IT help desks
The traditional IT help desk is organized in such a way to be the customer-facing portal to the entire IT department. Any onboarding, offboarding, troubleshooting and technical requests are initiated by this team. In the past, end-users (customers) have commonly had several ways to contact their help desk. This may include face-to-face walk-ins, phone, email, ticketing systems, and corporate-wide messaging. However, forward-thinking IT departments are beginning to streamline and consolidate customer engagement methods to better take advantage of modern technologies that younger employees are likely to use. These newer methods of customer engagement are better suited for self-service and automated tasks. Thus, customers may no longer be able to initiate communications with the help desk using email, picking up the phone or simply walking down to the IT department.
Chatbot platforms can be integrated into websites and chat systems easily. Thus, the implementation part of a chatbot project is usually the least of one’s worries. That said, the next step would be to figure out what tasks a chatbot can take over that are currently handled by humans. The best way to go about this is to look at current help desk processes and see what tasks are easily repeatable. For example, chatbots are excellent when it comes to helping customers answer commonly asked questions regarding a supported business app. Too often, help desk employees have been required to answer simple application-based questions over and over. Thus, programming this into an AI is appealing.
Even the most advanced chatbot platforms are still limited in what they can do. Thus, there needs to be a way for a chat conversation to steer toward the customer requesting support from an actual human. Without the assistance of a chatbot, this manual process includes finding the right human technical resource for the task, verifying availability and reserving rooms and resources required to fix the customer’s problem. In situations like this, chatbots can be integrated into shared calendaring and resource reservation platforms to automate the handling of face-to-face interactions.
Lastly, chatbots can be helpful when used in training customers on new IT applications and services. The information regarding how users should interact and operate various applications and services can be programmed into the bot. Thus, most questions that end-users have could be fielded by an artificial intelligence.
Pros of chatbots in IT help desks
Ultimately, chatbots can completely take over the initial point of contact for a business’s end-users. The first and most obvious benefit is that it frees up human resource workloads, so they can go out and perform other (and likely more complex) tasks. But the more apparent benefit to the customer is that they have a way to immediately communicate with the help desk and potentially solve their problem or answer their question without having to wait for a human. If a business operates on extended-hours or even on a 24/7 basis, the impact of immediate service can be immense.
Lastly, if your chatbot is designed properly, it can be personalized to the point where the end user has no idea they're interacting with an AI. While it can be tricky to pull off completely, the potential is certainly there.
Cons of chatbots in IT help desks
The key to any successful chatbot implementation within IT is to be able to automate regularly recurring tasks. Thus, if the number of commonly recurring tasks for your IT department is low, the benefits of implementing the platform may not exceed the cost and effort to implement. Along those same lines, it's important to note that a great deal of care and feeding is required for IT departments that are constantly adding new applications, services and processes for their end users. Making sure that chatbot has the information needed -- and that the bot is properly tested to provide accurate results -- can be time consuming.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, your users may push back against the idea of working with a chatbot as opposed to a human. Poorly programmed bots that offer limited functionally or provide incorrect or uninformative information are often rejected by many end-users. That's why it’s so critical that a great deal of testing be performed prior to rolling out bots in front of production users. It’s also a reason why chatbots perhaps shouldn’t be your first AI project.
My previous dislike of chatbots clearly stems from the fact that I worked with early -- or poorly maintained -- platforms that didn’t give me anything close to a human-to-human interaction. Thus, keep in mind that others may have had similar experiences. That’s why it’s so important that successful chatbot rollouts be as robust and lifelike as possible. However, if you take your time to fine-tune your chatbot platform to provide a realistic and effective channel to assist end-users with their problems, it is well worth the time and effort.