Customer Service & Support Articles

Automate Support and Cut Costs: Review of Acobot

by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 14 June 2012

Robots pioneered efficiency in manufacturing.

This week we look at a solution that makes customer support more efficient by automating routine support questions. It enables you to cut costs and increases efficiency.

We will review Acobot - a chatbot that enables automated live chats for commonly-asked questions on your website. We will look at its features, interface, and see how it can be of use to you.

Designing A Robot

Surprisingly, the roots for Acobot lie in a seeming unrelated area - website conversion rates. Vic Duan, who developed the application, says he discovered that live chats were an effective tool for increasing conversion rates for his website. But, there was a problem. The entire process of setting up live chats - from hiring support agents to buying chat software - was an expensive deal. "Some reports indicate the cost per chat can be as high as $5," he says. "That makes live-chat unprofitable for most small businesses."

While searching for an affordable solution, Duan discovered that about eighty percent of customer questions could be covered with a knowledge base of about 100 or so entries. "In other words, 80 percent of resources of live chat are used to answer simple and repeating questions," he says.

A market survey also revealed that developing artificial intelligence software was an expensive proposition, one that small businesses could ill-afford. "That was disappointing but also exciting because I found a potential market that is not well-satisfied yet!", he says. So, Duan researched AI chat in early 2009 and began developing his product in 2010. The first version of Acobot was released in December 2011.

The Case For Robots

Duan makes the case for Acobot with two simple reasons: cost and opportunity. "With Acobot, every firm, even single-person small businesses can delight their customers by eliminating wait times and boost sales while cutting costs," he says.

And, he has impressive numbers to back up his claim.

According to him, the cost of hiring a low-end live chat agent is approximately $3,200 per month, inclusive of salary and benefits. Acobot provides similar services at a fraction of the cost. "If we assume that the human agent works for 8 hours a day, 20 days a month and serves customers every 6 minutes, then she can perform up to 1600 chats per month," he says. "The cost per chat, in this case, works out to $2 per call." In comparison, the Acobot pro account, says Duan, delivers 2,000 chats at just $199, or $0.01 per chat, a saving of almost 200 percent.

Similarly, according to Duan, an agent performs an average of 480 chats per month (based on 6 hours a day for chatting with customers, 2 hours for training or coffee time and one customer every 15 minutes, resulting in $6.67 per chat. What's more, Acobot does away with limitations of human agencies. "With a single agent, businesses can provide live chat up to 40 hours a week," says Duan. "However, customers come to your website 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. This means they will be disappointed with an off-line message for about 76 percent of the time!" Acobot offers 24X7 support that enables support for your website all the time.

Acobot Specifics

The software wins high marks for usability.

Installation barely takes a minute and is a simple copy-paste job. All you need to do is paste a Javascript code to begin using the chatbot. Because most websites are built on top of popular content management software such as WordPress and Drupal, the application can also be configured using an installation key. Training the robot is next. However, because you are dealing with a robot, the process is much simpler. In this case, it consists of developing and refining your chat script. Based on configured refinements, the chatbot automatically iterates its responses to questions. So, all you need to do is view previous chat logs (which are automatically logged by the application) and develop or refine answers to typical questions. "Once the robot is well-trained, the time and effort for maintenance is very small," says Duan. "Clients (in this case, small businesses using the application) just need to give a better reply if they are unsatisfied with the answer provided by the robot."

Besides being efficient, Acobot is also more productive than human agents. "She (the chatbot) can give an answer in a second or less, even when there are thousands of customers,"says Duan. "Compare that to human agents who couldn't effectively chat with more than three customers." The solution also offers multiple variations within the simple chat format. For example, the solution offers pushing page capabilities. This means that the chatbot can load web pages in response to specific questions. For example, the robot can automatically display the pricing page, in response to a question about product costs.

Evaluating Acobot

Installation and use is extremely user-friendly, enabling even the most non-technical user to be up and running in less than a minute. In fact, Duan says the solution has already received high points from clients for its usability. "Acobot is built with advanced AI technologies but users do not need AI knowledge or programmming skills to use it," says Duan.

I especially liked the concept of knowledge meter or continuous refinement of scripts. Having worked with human agents in an earlier avatar, I know the amount of hard work and cultural training involved before an actual support center setup. Acobot simplifies the process by enabling a simple script log of conversations.

A further addition that the developers might want to consider is making the application culture-specific. Thus, it might be an idea for Acobot developers to make it available to users in multiple languages and refining their AI algorithms to work with specific languages.

However this kind of application is highly language specific and it won't be easy to extend or migrate the application from English to any other languages.

The Price Is Right

The solution is priced on the number of chats conducted by the chatbot. Thus, businesses can scale their plans based on their website popularity. Current prices are valid for the beta 3 stage. "We release beta versions for free so that more potential clients can try it," says Duan. "Our robot works with hundreds of website and chats on 11,788 pages as of early June this year."

They haven't actually started charging their clients but for-profit clients have been informed they would be charged by a recently released pricing table once they put the robot in real work.

Is It For You?

Acobot is a great four-in-one deal: It engages users, clarifies their queries, decreases support costs, and increases conversion rates! Recommended!


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