Emotional AI: Can chatbots convey empathy in customer interactions?

Emotional AI: Can chatbots convey empathy in customer interactions? Source: AFP

Emotional AI — can chatbots convey empathy?

  • How can chatbots implement a humane trait in order to create a compassionate conversational environment for its users? 
  • Businesses should prepare chatbots to switch their tones, from professional to casual, to keep clients engaged and interested

Voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant can set a timer, play a song, or check the weather with ease, but for a real conversation, you may as well try talking to a wall.

Of course, speaking as naturally as a person requires common sense, general knowledge, and the ability to read emotions and character. Humans are social creatures. We thrive on empathy, although we would like to think that we are logical creatures. 

In truth, our emotions govern a large part of our intelligence. But have we reached a point where conversation with a digital assistant is indistinguishable from one with a person?

Maya Angelou once said — “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

So, since emotions are our most human quality, what if we could teach artificial intelligence (AI) to understand our feelings?

In recent years, AI and machine learning algorithms have held the world spellbound with the rapid pace of development and integration in various industries and verticals

The goal of AI research has shifted over the years; to compute what humans could not, to beat us in specific tasks, and most recently to create an algorithm that can show how it’s working

To put how rapidly AI is growing in context, a Pew Research Center study reports that by 2025, AI and robotics will permeate most segments of daily life, while another an Oxford University Study projects that within the next 25 years, developed nations will experience job loss rates of up to 47%. AI is displacing the roles of both white and blue-collar workers, from travel agents to bank tellers, gas station attendants to factory workers. This has tremendous implications for industries such as home maintenance, transport and logistics, healthcare, and most significantly, customer service.

However, for some time now, many have been working on the alchemic pursuit of making algorithms more human, mainly to improve the customer experience.

What is empathy? How it can be inculcated in your chatbot environment?

By definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It can be categorized into cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and compassionate (affective) empathy.

All of which basically means understanding the emotions and taking relevant actions to assist them. In short, while chatbots can elicit social and emotional responses on the part of the human interlocutor, an empathic chatbot can serve as a buffer against the adverse effects of social ostracism.

Truth be told, chatbots have been around for years, but they’ve only surged to popularity recently with various industries making use of these virtual assistants to improve their customer service and interactivity. 

This intelligence can only be implemented by training machines through the development and implementation of Natural Language Processing (NLP) models and Sentiment Analytics.

Both can determine users’ intent, gauge their sentiments, and also understand humor.

To put it broadly, NLP is a branch of AI that allows computer programs to comprehend the natural speech of a human. NLP seamlessly bridges the communication gap between complex human language and coded machines.

In the context of bots, NLP can be used to know the subtext of what the user is actually trying to tell or ask. This way, brands can engage with their customers in a personal, more empathetic manner, which can ultimately make them stand unique among their competitors.

The chatbot market is expected to grow from US$703.3 million in 2016 to a whopping US$3,172.0 million by 2021, according to research by MarketsandMarkets. It’s essential, then, to understand and analyze business requirements and implement emotionally intelligent chatbots that can create a significant impact on customer engagement right now.