Chat Bots seem to be all the rage these days. Three different companies came out of the most recent YCombinator batch building chat bot related infrastructure. Microsoft just announced the launch of a bot platform and Facebook announced last summer about their messenger bot with hopes to compete with the likes of Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa.
Chat bots have been around for quite a while, and like software from the 90s, we are trained from many years of terrible experience with automation, like IVR messaging when calling customer support, and robo-calls from politicians and business loan companies, to be very skeptical of it’s ability to be useful.
However, there are a few underlying trends happening right now that are important to be aware of.
The first and most notable is that mobile as a platform reaches over 2 Billion people today. It is capable of reaching places where internet access can’t reach, and affordable enough for the masses. There is little question that mobile is eating the world. We literally have the universe in our pocket.
However, as with most platforms, it requires a native experience to reach it’s full potential. Mobile browsing is still clunky. Responsive web design is this rather terrible trend of trying force the website infrastructure onto tiny devices. It’s like a kid trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It just doesn’t fit.
While apps are useful and more native than a browser, they require downloading software, signing up or logging in, and clutter up your screen. The stats are staggering about how many apps get downloaded once and never used again.
Bottom line, apps might serve a function in many situations, like using GPS to navigate somewhere, and while the touch interface is a good way to interact with touch screens, it is still clunky when it comes to advanced search, buying things and anything that requires entering data.
However, there is one type of app that is native to the mobile phone and that is communication. Specifically messaging and phone calls. Those are natural, native experiences and their mass adoption is as clear a sign as any that messaging is the most native way we interact with mobile devices. Messaging isn’t limited to apps, it can be a phone number you call, or a number you text.
We interact with computers in many different ways. We use a mouse and keyboard. We use a stylus and our fingers. We pinch and zoom and swipe. We also speak into computers… Ever since the 1950s (or earlier) people have been trying to find ways to communicate intelligently with a computer. The first generation of chat bots weren’t very good. However, with some amazing innovation around machine learning, NLP, and artificial intelligence, we are on the brink of having semi-intelligent conversations with our devices.
So, when you consider that a)mobile has the broadest reach of any platform and is rapidly growing, and b)messaging is the most native way to interact with mobile devices, and c)AI is advanced enough to actually understand what you are saying and replying semi-intelligently, we have the formula for what many believe might be the NEW way of interacting with the internet and companies and all the different entities we want to connect to. (There is another trend that makes chat bots especially attractive to developers, which is they don’t need to build a user interface, which is a huge cost and time sink.) This is the perfect storm for conversational bots popping up.
There are also some trends on enterprise messaging, like Slack, that make this even more attractive. There can arguably be a layer of admin assistant jobs completely replaced by chat bots. The really cool thing is that Chat Bots can have intelligent conversations with other chat bots.
Many are arguing that chat bots are the new apps, and the saying, “There’s a chat bot for that” might become a household phrase.
So, as a marketer, you are probably wondering how to leverage chat bots for your brand. The most obvious way is social media interactions. However, I think chat bots can possibly replace search. So, if your company requires querying a database, like Kayak looking for flights, that is a very obvious use case. Ordering food from a restaurant is another, as is pulling data from an accounting or analytics system. Think about chat bots as a new way to interact with the internet, and you will start seeing opportunities. Think about all the conversations and interactions your brand has with customers, and all of those are potential opportunities to replace or augment with Chat Bots.
There will be a layer of services with a human being using chat bots to achieve scale of advanced customer service. For example, MAGIC the concierge app, uses AI and a chat bot to interact with people via SMS, and has a human do the harder searches as needed.
So, if you want to know how you can use chat bots, listen to your customer service and sales calls and you will start to see opportunities to leverage them.
The goal here is not to plug yourself into existing conversations, but rather to think about the reasons a customer or prospect will want to interact with you and give them a way to do that without having a human being behind it.
I am still researching chat bots and trying to understand all the creative ways for brands to leverage them, but the use case I am most excited for is to replace my mom’s need to call me to look something up online for her. I can just connect her to my chatbot and let the bot do the research for her.
I think, jut like Waze has a voicepack ad unit, where you can be the voice of the GPS for an ad unit, that voice chat bots might be able to be layered with celebrity voices, etc… Should prove to be an interesting few years of innovation.
The main barrier chat bots must overcome is the inherent distrust of chat bots from the years of terrible experiences. This is why you really need to build a “magical” experience or it wont get traction.