Maciej Maliszewski: Chatbots can be the most important business channel

Maciej Maliszewski and Eran Soroka talking chatbots in Taking Turns

When Coronavirus brought the world to a halt – including the physical experience of shopping… the chatbots came to save the day. Maciej Maliszewski, head of bots in K2bots.ai in Poland, helps all kinds of businesses and institutes – from Ikea to the Warsaw University and deep into the fashion market – set up conversational interfaces as a key channel. In the latest Taking Turns episodes, shared his insights – and also told a great story that involves the names of historically bad people.

• HOW DID YOU GET INTO CONVERSATION DESIGN?

It’s a story that started somewhere 8 years ago. When I was working at a big insurance company, AXA, I was tasked with a job to find a new search engine for the corporate website. Then it turned out that probably it’s not the search engine we’re looking for – but some other form of support. In other words, something that can facilitate finding help FAQs and so on. Then the idea of chatbot came up. It was a new thing back then, and we ended up implementing a chatbot connected with live chat. Yet, the funny thing is that this solution works until today.

I’m very happy this project turned out to be a solution for years. So that’s how it all got started, and slowly I moved towards designing chatbots, voicebots and so on. Subsequently, that’s my current profession.

• Coming from the world of e-marketing, how crucial is e-marketing via conversational AI for companies in the Coronavirus era?

Well, the Coronavirus hit all markets really hard. Thus, we saw that especially a lot of traffic is moving from traditional retail to online retails or to e-commerce. Because the shops were closed for a period of time, there was a huge impact on all the commerce all trade everywhere. So we saw that many call centers of companies were overwhelmed by people calling asking questions. For example, ‘what’s going to happen with my order now, because I was planning to pick up my order at your shop’, or ‘How can I get a refund’.

Then, chatbots really proved to be a great solution for these hard times. We saw that the traffic in our chatbots sometimes grew by hundreds of percents week to week. So that was a really huge change, and that was also a game changer for us. We realized that chatbots are no longer some minor part of communication channels the business use, but they can be like THE most important channel – which can pick thousands of simultaneous chats from users coming from all over the country. So I can honestly say that this difficult Coronavirus times gave new fuel to he whole chatbots and voicebots industry. Not only in our country, but probably worldwide.

Want to have a chatbot connected to a phone in your business? Here’s how to do it.

WHAT’S THE chatbots or SKILLs YOU’RE MOST PROUD OF?

Honestly, I’m pretty proud of each and every bot we made, I hope this is going to stay this way. Of course if I had to pick one, I guess I would pick the project we worked on for a couple of months now with our team – it’s a chatbot for Ikea, the furniture brand. So there’s a Swedish furniture and that chatbot was particularly helpful during Coronavirus time and still is. And we’re proud that with this project this chatbot really helps to resolve most of the cases people come to ask him about.

So it’s not the question of how many intents were correctly understood. It’s how many cases were really resolved – the client came with a particular problem and the chatbot managed to help him from the beginning to the end. Of course, there are cases which require a human hand-off. However, in most cases the chatbot is successful to help clients alone. So I guess that we achieved some sort of the critical mass and that the chatbot is really helping out in most situations.

💬 Previously on Taking Turns – Check out the whole playlist 💬

Thorben Stemann: “Users asked my bot for her picture”
Emiel Langeberg: “Voice Tech can be also a research tool”
Rebecca Evanhoe: “Context is the most important thing for voice
Ambreen Molitor: “Chatbots can educate users about their body”

• WHAT’S THE ONE THING EVERY Chatbot or VOICE ASSISTANT MUST HAVE, IN YOUR OPINION?

Well, there are a few important factors, so I don’t like telling that ‘there is this one’. Indeed, I think there is a huge misunderstanding on the market, that for example, the technology is the most important thing, so we should pick the best NLP, and I think that this is overstated. So I would say the most important thing is the balance between good technology, but also good copywriting, proper amount of time put into analysis in the beginning, then proper amount of time invested in optimization after the launch. On top of it, if any of those factors fails, then the whole chatbot will also not be successful.

Also, it’s hard to pick just one of them. For instance, without a good copywriting the chatbots will be boring. Without good technology it will fail to understand the client. Then also the analysis and the optimization afterwards are also as important. It’s impossible to just make a chatbot from scratch without understanding the clients at first, then optimizing it better for those clients after the launch.

Not only it helps out to manage the workload on customer care; Chatbots can also boost sales and help businesses to develop even in difficult times.

MACIEJ MALISZEWSKI

• WHAT’S THE MOST AWKWARD, AMAZING OR SURPRISING THING THAT HAPPENED TO YOU designing your chatbots?

Well, I guess all chatbot designers have many funny stories, usually about false positives. So when the chatbot misunderstood the user in some funny way, sometimes those situations turn out to be very awkward. Hopefully, usually we can turn them into a joke.

I remember one funny situation when one guy tried to troll one of our chatbots for Warsaw University. There, he was particularly trying hard to make the chatbot say something stupid on purpose. Most of the time the chatbot was defending pretty well.Eventually he asked something like ‘who was your favorite Nazi?’ and the chatbot said, ‘oh, I like so many of them! I don’t know which one’.

That wasn’t the funny part… so the funny part is that I was so angry that this could happen, that then I spent a lot of time protecting the chatbot from all sorts of trolling. Then, when I was testing it, I was testing it with very aggressive phrases about all the bad people in history and stuff. Eventually Facebook blocked my account because of all the hate speech I used to test the chatbot. So even though I used this language in good faith, because I wanted to teach the chatbot how to train to not respond bad to the situation – it was funny because Facebook blocked me.

CoCo & Co Content reCommendations 

The dream scenario is if the chatbot could help throughout the whole Shopper Journey – from the beginning to the end.

MACIEJ MALISZEWSKI

• WHAT TIPS CAN YOU GIVE TO ASPIRING CONVERSATIONAL DESIGNERS, OR TO PEOPLE WHO WANTS TO JOIN THIS PROFESSION?

First of all, be very patient. We are still in a process of getting to the point where chatbots are universally satisfying clients. Currently as I just said, I believe we are somewhere around the very critical point of having this critical mass that most of the people can be happy after talking to a chatbot. Still it happens often that the chatbots failed.

So we have to be very very patient and invest time in perfecting and optimizing each and every chatbot. And I advise you to have this patience and to work towards chatbots that are really passing the Turing Test and that will be able to really talk like humans. That’s definitely possible, somewhere ahead of us – hopefully not far away. So all we need is patience, and keep on working until we get to this point.

• Tell us more about K2Bots.ai.

So K2bots.ai is a group of chatbot enthusiasts, voicebot enthusiasts, and generally speaking – conversational designers. Currently, we focus on building chatbots for e-commerce and particularly for fashion business in e-commerce, because this area is really booming. Especially during Coronavirus times, people tend to move to e-commerce shops, to online stores. There’s where we can be really helpul to the businesses, to manage the increased workload from huge amounts of people asking similar questions. We see that this solution is really working for our clients. We see it’s really helping out. Moreover, not only it helps out to manage the workload on customer care. It can also boost sales and help those businesses to develop even in difficult times.

• How can chatbots help so much in fashion businesses, where you want to try the new clothes on before buying them?

So you mentioned that obviously people need to try on clothes before really buying them. But so this proves that one of the most important group of topics that the chatbot needs to manage is the returns. Because people order more, they also return more, and the chatbot can help facilitate how to manage all the returns. So this is just one way.

It also facilitates search – if you buy the thing you really wanted, hopefully you won’t ever need to return it. So finding the right thing, the right size, is also where semantic search engines can help. This is also where chatbots are really good. So I would say we’re working on covering the whole customer journey, the shopper’s journey, from finding the right product ordering it then managing the whole delivery until the product reaches you. And if it doesn’t fit – you’re helping to return it. Because then even if the client returns it, he is likely to buy again, to pick the right size and so on.

So, the dream scenario is if the chatbot could help throughout the whole Shopper Journey from the beginning to the end. It can be this kind of virtual shopping assistant throughout the whole journey.

Next week, we’ll have episode 5 of Coming To Terms with AI! In the meanwhile – subscribe to our YouTube channel | Join our Discord community | Sign up for our newsletter | Follow us on FacebookLinkedInInstagram or Twitter

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