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The next thing your business may need is a ‘bot’ 

September 13, 2017

Digital Reporter

Cover Art Erka Capili Inciong

The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) is significantly disrupting the traditional way of doing business. And its latest offering, chatbots, is gaining momentum as a primary customer service channel for companies.

It created a louder noise when social media giant Facebook announced that enterprises can already integrate chatbots into their Messenger during its F8 conference last year. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said chatbots would enable businesses to deliver automated customer support, among others.

This announcement gave a trio of Filipino business founders who were fresh off a failed startup venture a ray of hope.

Ron Baetiong, who previously worked at US-based online marketplace Groupon, Stephen Ku, owner of an event agency and clubs in Manila, and JC Velasquez, who runs two mobile application development companies, were the men behind Partyphile—an app that allowed users to access clubs, bars, and events. The team, later on, decided to close the business due to lack of traction.

“Just like any other mobile app startup, the challenge was how to get people to download our app because there were too many friction points like searching on the app store, downloading, installing, and more,” Mr. Baetiong told SparkUp in an email when sought for comment. “We had to look for a better way to deliver value.”

So in January, the trio launched ChatbotPH, which boasts of being the pioneer chatbot development agency in the country. It creates, trains, and maintains chatbots for businesses.

According to Mr. Baetiong, “80% of businesses think that they provide superior customer service, but only 8% of consumers agree.” In putting up the agency, he said the team aimed at helping local companies in enhancing their customer service.

“There is a big gap in customer service, especially among growing businesses. Before, the only way you can avert this problem is to pump in more resources by hiring more people, which is an inefficient way to use human effort and intellect,” he said. “Now, you can address this issue by deploying a chatbot for your business to answer queries and become your front‑liner.”

He further said: “70% of questions thrown at a business are repetitive. The only difference is how people ask them and what language they use. Now if there is a pattern, it can be automated by teaching a bot to answer these queries regardless of how they are asked.”

Since its launch, Mr. Baetiong said ChatbotPH has “achieved very good momentum.” Among its current clients are a local bookstore chain and other “big brands.”

“Everyone is in awe of what chatbots can do and how easy it works. It can be applied to all businesses and the use cases for it are unlimited,” he said. “Over time, the bot becomes smarter and smarter that eventually all customer service will require minimal human intervention.”

‘AI not a threat’

For Mr. Baetiong, the Philippines is a suitable place where AI can grow.

“The potential of artificial intelligence is huge here in the Philippines because a lot of jobs are still being done manually with rudimentary tasks. Imagine if we can automate that and get people to do better things that would contribute more,” he said.

AI is among the current hot topics among businesses in the country that it prompted Senator Bam Aquino to file a resolution for a hearing to discuss its impact on the country’s workforce.

While many believe that AI is a great advantage for the business community, some see it as a threat that may leave many Filipino workers jobless, especially those in the business project outsourcing industry.

But Mr. Baetiong said this is only a “case‑to‑case basis.”

“AI will only be a threat (to) jobs that require the same amount of effort and answers. If there are patterns, then it can be automated. But there are still some jobs that really require human labor to be executed properly,” he said.

“Overall, AI is not a threat, it is actually designed to make human lives easier and we should embrace the inevitable future now.”