Covid-19, Acceleration of Digitalization and Chatbots
The digitalization wave that has already started has been accelerated with the Covid-19 outbreak. Companies have begun to plan a rapid digitalization in their products and services, employee processes, production lines and supply chains. By the end of 2021, we can expect serious steps to be taken in this direction. The two main triggers of this are the users’ orientation towards digital channels and the companies’ prioritization of cost management. A very important component of this process is conversational AI, namely and chatbots and digital assistants, at which we, as CBOT, are a leader in Turkey. A serious indication of the user’s orientations towards digital is that we have observed 5 times increase in the usage of banking chatbots, and 2 times increase in usage of ecommerce chatbots during the pandemic.
New Normal and Digitalization
The Covid-19 outbreak, which has created a great humanitarian tragedy since the beginning of 2020, has profoundly affected the way of life and work, businesses, sectors and economies all over the world. McKinsey estimates that government deficits could reach $30 trillion worldwide by 2023. Since the first weeks of the pandemic, which has an unprecedented global impact, it has been mentioned that the change will be permanent and we will have to live in a new normal.
Within this new normal, there are new business models, new forms of socialization, new ways of working, all in common: less “physical”, more “digital”; less “face-to-face” more “remote”. Although some of the changes will be temporary, we all know that most of them will be permanent. Societies are gaining digital habits at a speed we could never imagine. Not only the way people work is changing, but also the nature of “workplace” and “employee” are transformed. The way people produce and consume is redefined.
One of the areas of change is how individuals consume products and services produced by companies and how they establish relationships with the companies in this process. We observe a rapid digitalization in these processes as well. The digitalization trend that has already begun has gained momentum in the pandemic, gained acceptance and directly created value for people’s lives. Companies will go through a multidimensional digital transformation in the fields of (1) customer-facing processes, products and services, (2) internal processes for their employees, (3) production lines and (4) supply chains.
How will conversational AI change things?
In such an environment, the value created by AI technologies has become more visible. Like other digital channels, AI-based chatbots have become channels that people, use and benefit more in these difficult times. Conversational AI technologies have become an area of interest and investment more and more for the companies. Because the companies realized that these technologies and chatbots developed with these technologies enable the customers to reach the companies, to find responses to their questions instantly and to perform their transactions. They understood that this creates efficiency and increases customer satisfaction by providing an enhanced customer experience. In short, AI-based chatbots are critical for companies more than ever.
As CBOT, what did we focus on during these tough times?
As CBOT, we have focused on how we can use our AI technology for the benefit of society from the first days of the pandemic. In the first days, we have launched Koronabot, which provides the correct information instantly about Covid-19. Then, in cooperation with the Turkish Republic Ministry of Education, we have launched EBA Assistant that enables students, teachers and parents to find an instant answer to their questions about EBA, the remote education system in Turkey. With EBA Assistant, users found answers to more than 1,000 different topics, such as curriculum, password creation, and live lesson participation. EBA Assistant has achieved a record by answering over 10 million questions of 2.8 million users in the first 7 weeks. These two chatbots were used intensively during the pandemic period and became examples of mass chatbot usage in our country.
The chatbot usage increased dramatically during the pandemic
Besides, we have also seen significant increases in the chatbot usage figures of our customers, each of whom has an important market share in their sectors. Turkey banking sector, where we, as CBOT, are in a leading position, is quite strong with its technological infrastructure, digital channels and enhanced customer experience, and has rapidly adapted to the new circumstances. It became a global best practice in terms of or enabling employees to provide uninterrupted service to customers in remote working conditions. This rapid adaptability is the result of banks’ having an advanced digital infrastructure. There was also a significant increase in usage in banking chatbots. We observed a 5-fold increase in our banking chatbots in the last 3 months.
The e-commerce sector, of course, had a serious growth in the pandemic environment. In the US, the daily e-commerce figures of 1-23 April increased by 49% compared to the period of 1-11 March, the daily online market shopping figures increased by 110% and the daily electronic goods online shopping figures increased by 58%. If we look at Turkey, according to Nielsen‘s research, ecommerce sales increased an average of 159% in the pandemic period (9.3.2020- 05.31.2020) compared to the same period last year. We have also observed a 2-fold increase in the use of chatbot in this industry.
During this period, we have observed an increase in demand for chatbot development in flagship sectors such as banking, e-commerce, healthcare, education and public services, not only by large companies but also by SMEs. The increase in the number of chatbot users shows that people adopt chatbots to a large extent and use them to reach the companies in this period. The biggest change in the questions asked to the banking chatbots in the first months of the pandemic was the increase in the number of loan applications and the number of loan deferral questions. In addition, the increase in the number of digital passwords related questions show that more people started using digital banking channels for the first time because of the lockdown. During this period, when individuals turned to online shopping, chatbots supported e-commerce brands, especially in the field of after-sales support services.
Let’s consider call centers as another sector which customers reached and requested support more than the ordinary times during pandemic. In this period, it has not been easy for many call centers to turn their working models into remote. It is very difficult for call centers to provide appropriate setup to their employees, to ensure that their internet connections are stable, and to provide a quality service without interruption with traditional models. However, when a human and AI collaboration model is run in a call center, this would augment the agent, enable him/her to focus on more value added tasks and ensure a better quality customer service. Considering that 80% of the questions coming to a call center are concentrated in 5-6 question types, the advantage of call centers working with a model based on human-artificial intelligence cooperation can be better understood. During the epidemic period, we have seen that the call centers, which empowered their service models with AI technologies, supported their employees with chatbots and virtual assistants, can provide uninterrupted and higher quality services.
Digitalization wave will accelerate in the post-pandemic world
This extraordinary period will bring radical and lasting changes in both operational models and service models of companies. In the new period, we will have an environment where service will not fail, digital tools will ensure the same service quality and efficiency will be at the forefront. The big digital wave, that has already begun, will accelerate. Even today, we have seen that companies that have well-established digital infrastructures, adapted to the new situation, continued their services without interruption and increased their sales volumes and market shares.
Conclusion: What is next?
We are in a period that it is very difficult to predict, there are estimations and different scenarios, which point to various levels of revenue declines for companies. This shows us that costs will be reduced and companies will need to find out more efficient structures. Digitalization is no longer an option, but a must for companies of all sizes. Conversational AI is a crucial part of the huge digitalization wave. Because this technology offers companies the tools that both employees and customers can use, get immediate answers to their questions, perform their transactions instantly, and it is at the center of remote working and digital service models. In this sense, chatbots and virtual assistants will penetrate more into our lives and the near future will be shaped around this concept.