What is a chatbot?

Chatbots assist users by answering common questions, providing faster resolution and reducing pressure on live agents.

There’s a good chance that you’ve interacted with chatbots before. These unassuming, easily-overlooked programs are most often encountered when users visit a website. As the user browses, a messaging window may pop up in the corner of the screen, making a cordial greeting, and helpfully offering to answer any questions. But while these messages are often accompanied by a headshot of a friendly-looking customer service or support agent, the truth is that there isn’t anyone on the other end. And that can be a great thing for customers, employees, and businesses.

Through advanced AI programming and machine learning, chatbots are capable of simulating human conversation. Chatbots can interpret, process, and follow through on user requests. The end result is an automated solution for providing reliable support, available at any time.

By offering a fast, easy solution capable of retrieving answers to common questions and handling simple tasks, businesses not only reduce costs and free up human agents to focus on other tasks, but also improve the customer experience in the process. In fact, according to a recent study, approximately 80% of people who have interacted with chatbots say that the experience was a positive one (Source: Uberall).

Chatbot benefits extend even further. Here, we take a closer look at some chatbot benefits for different kinds of users:

Graphic outlining the reasons to use a chatbot.

For customers

For complex requests or difficult-to-resolve issues, customers still prefer to speak with humans. However, most customers also expect reliable self-service options. As first-line issues arise, customers simply type their requests into the chatbot message window, and receive near-immediate responses. Rather than having to wait on the availability of customer-service agents, customers enjoy almost instant resolution. And, because responses are preprogrammed and fully vetted, users don’t have to worry about having their issues handled by inexperienced agents who might fail to provide accurate solutions.

Chatbots also improve customer engagement. With automated agents always standing by to help at a moment’s notice, customers become more likely to request assistance and follow up with questions. At the same time, chatbots empower businesses to more proactively interact with their customers. Where limited agent bandwidth once meant that companies were only capable of responding to customer-initiated inquiries, automated agents and virtual assistants can begin conversations with customers directly. This includes greeting customers and asking if they need any assistance, but it also allows businesses to share information about special deals, guides, tutorials, related products, and more.

For live agents

While more and more customers are preferring to interact with automated support and service options, live agents are likewise benefitting from chatbots. This is because the most effective chatbots are designed not to replace live agents, but to assist them in handling customer requests.

Live agents that spend much of their time dealing with repetitive users requests and inquiries may employ chatbot solutions to help address these important, yet front-line tasks. By passing off high-volume, low-urgency, simple-solution cases to automated agents, live agents are able to address more critical concerns. And in the event that a user requires human assistance, the chatbot can seamlessly redirect them to the appropriate support agent while also providing the agent with all relevant collected information. This ensures a seamless transition for the customer, and gives the agent the details they need without having to ask customers to repeat themselves.

Chatbots provide internal business solutions as well. Employees enjoy automated, self-service options in handling common tasks, such as resetting passwords, checking system status, and accessing vital internal tools and data.

For businesses

Perhaps the most obvious chatbot business advantage is the ability to scale customer service. Instead of routing every customer request to a limited number of live agents, businesses can now address the most common inquiries automatically, resolving potentially thousands of cases without needing to divert limited live-agent resources from more-complex tasks.

The ability to scale customer service without hiring an army of service agents reduces costs while also improving operational efficiency. Businesses better utilise their human agents and get back more for their investment. And, because chatbots are essentially automated computer programs, it’s a simple matter to design chatbots capable of collecting user data while providing support. Businesses can analyse this data, building more-targeted messaging and developing more-actionable customer insights.

Data collection and analysis likewise pays off in qualifying leads. Using information drawn from conversations, and cross-referencing it against other available customer and demographic data, chatbots can help evaluate which leads are the most likely to convert, providing sales teams with qualified prospects worth following up on.

Taken all together, chatbots give employees and customers easy access to essential information and support. And when customers and employees have the resources they need to be successful, the business always benefits.

Businesses and organisations across nearly every industry and interest use chatbots to streamline the customer-service process. And although these chatbots take many forms, most experts separate chatbots into two distinct categories: declarative and conversational.


The question/response chatbots that most people encounter when visiting websites usually fall into the category of declarative, or task-oriented chatbots. Incorporating rules programming—predetermined if/then conditional statements that provide automated responses to user inquiries—these chatbots are designed to direct users to solutions based on their requests. They may also incorporate some natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) to add a conversational element to their answers, but still tend to function as semi-advanced, interactive FAQ programs. In other words, declarative chatbots tend to take the role of information retrieval programs, but fall short of providing in-depth, human-equivalent conversation.

Although more rudimentary than conversational chatbots, declarative chatbots may nonetheless provide an extremely satisfying customer experience, serving up reliable solutions efficiently and instantaneously, without forcing users through multiple service channels.


More advanced than (and not nearly as common as) declarative chatbots, conversational chatbots are capable of taking the role of digital assistant. These data-driven, predictive chatbots adapt as more data becomes available, personalising the customer experience based on past behaviour, user profiles, and even cultural awareness. Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant are all examples of conversational chatbots.

Conversational chatbots leverage advanced NLP and ML, along with natural-language understanding (NLU), predictive intelligence, and data analytics to effectively learn user preferences, and tailor responses and other interactions to individuals. For example, if a user asks a conversational chatbot to update their laptop, it will know which device the user means. But more than simply answering questions and fulfilling requests, conversational chatbots can also anticipate user needs, make purchase recommendations, and initiate conversation. By interacting in a more realistic, conversational way, these chatbots help build positive relationships while providing always-available, always-reliable customer support.

Although interactions with a chatbot may be at times very complex, at their most basic, they perform two core tasks: user-request analysis and returning the response.

User-request analysis

Before any chatbot can provide value to a user, it first needs to identify user intent and extract relevant entities. For example, a user that asks a chatbot “Where can I find office hours?” will be expecting to see a schedule of when the office is open, not the physical address of the office itself. The chatbot needs to be able to accurately assess the need behind the request by picking out not only specific keywords, but also other important cues in the language. Accurately analysing and identifying user requests is absolutely essential.

Returning the response

The second task in providing a useful chatbot experience is returning the response. Here, the chatbot finds or generates an accurate and relevant response based upon the user request. The response may take many forms, including the following:

  • Predefined text answers
  • Links to relevant support pages
  • Citations from (or links to) knowledge-base articles
  • Contextualised information based on user data
  • Data retrieved from enterprise systems
  • Actions performed through designated workflows
  • Directing users to a service catalogue
  • ·Clarifying questions to further identify user intent

Wherever users have issues that need to be resolved, chatbots may provide a valuable service. Because of this, chatbots serve business of all shapes, sizes, and industries. Business use cases for chatbots are as varied as the customers who interact with them. From booking tickets to events, to processing returns and exchanges, to collecting customer data and feedback, and beyond, there are nearly limitless applications for chatbot technology in business.

That said, the three most often employed chatbot business use cases are call-centre support, enterprise support, and digital-assistant services.

Call centre support

Although many call-centre requests necessitate support from experienced live agents, chatbots are capable of effectively handling most customer inquiries. This includes providing answers to common questions and offering solutions to known issues, but also goes further—scheduling appointments, following up on previous cases, changing passwords, etc. Call centre chatbots allow businesses to expand the effectiveness and accessibility of their support options.

Enterprise support

Although the customer-facing side of chatbots is well known, employee-facing chatbots are just as valuable. Integrating chatbot technology with enterprise back-end systems further supports employees in performing internal tasks. This may include locating and using enterprise tools, accessing important customer or vendor contact information, providing reliable information relating to company policy, and more.

Digital assistant services

As previously addressed, chatbot technology is essential for digital-assistant programs. These assistants evolve and learn, creating a more personalised experience for users. Effective digital assistants take user requests and not only provide solutions in the form of answers and other relevant information, but also facilitate more involved interaction, such as making orders, getting product recommendations, or booking events. And the more a user interacts with the digital assistant, the more natural and personalised the experience becomes.

  1. Reducing waiting time
    Chatbots are capable of providing answers, solutions, and resolutions to problems nearly instantaneously. And whether these chatbots are helping customers or employees, the ability to cut down on wait time and reduce the need for live-agent intervention means that users can get the support they need with minimal disruption.

  2. Resolving issues
    Because chatbots depend on predetermined answers and solutions, they tend to be more accurate, direct, and clear then some live agents. Customers and employees enjoy reliable support that takes care of problems quickly, efficiently, and effectively.

  3. Handling redirects for inquiries
    When integrated throughout an organisation, chatbots are capable of quickly identifying user needs and then redirecting them to the agent, department, or resource best qualified to provide support.

The right chatbot solution can reduce costs, increase agent productivity, and improve customer and employee experiences. ServiceNow Virtual Agent optimises chatbot functionality, with an end-to-end, AI-powered, intelligent conversational experience.

Virtual Agent uses natural language understanding (NLU) tuned to ServiceNow workflows, supported by pre-built conversational templates for common HR, IT, and customer service scenarios. Additionally, ServiceNow tools allow users to easily create declarative chatbots without NLU, meeting the needs of businesses whose customers are looking for a satisfying, simpler chatbot experience. Using advanced graphical interface and drag-and-drop options, and designed for seamless integration with a range of channels and tools, Virtual Agent makes it easy to build effective chatbots throughout your organisation.

Learn more about chatbot solutions with ServiceNow Virtual Agent, and give internal and external users the improved experiences they crave.

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