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Say goodbye, Siri: a report into the new chatbot trend

Mar 09, 2017
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Say goodbye, Siri and hello chatbot. The future (if we’re to believe the word of developers) will be on built on the integration of artificial intelligence into our daily lives. And if we’re to believe Microsoft’s bold claims, “bots are the new apps” and the work will soon spring from “people to people” conversations to “people-to-bots” exchanges. And you know, they very well might be right: anything you can do with an app, you can do with a bot. The only difference is really that bots communicate by mimicking human language, a revolutionary feature which is quite telling of how far artificial intelligence services have increased.

 

They might not get much publicity, but chatbots are huge in the tech sector, and some even think they have the potential to become even more popular than websites and mobile apps, according to Matt Schlicht, founder of Chatbots Magazine. I mean, Messenger is growing faster than Facebook itself, and is used by over 1 billion people. Bots and other forms of messaging apps are a great way for businesses to engage with users, and way more effective that 24-hour call centres. By utilising a computer programme, businesses can thus respond instantly to any number of users simultaneously, making it extremely cost effective. Matt further argues that bots’ greatest asset is their ability relate to us with the “the most natural interface humans understand”, that being language.

 

These might all seem like far fetched claims, but just imagine this. Instead of wandering endlessly about in a shop or even surfing your favourite website, by using a chatbot you could instead simply ask the bot if what you wanted was in stock, or it would ask you what you want, and find it for you. Sounds efficient, right? Chatbots have the potential to really streamline the sales process, and, in theory, mirror a human interaction.
There are bots for weather, news, life advice, scheduling, personal finance, health, wealth, high-end fashion and countless others. Scarily enough, in China there’s even a bot (Xiaoice) that acts as your friend, and over 20 million people use it.

 

Chatbots represent a huge opportunity for companies and brands, especially when you take into account the fact that nearly 60% of millennials have used chatbots at one point or another. So, there are potentially endless opportunities. If you need more inspiration, look at 14-year-old Alec Jones, from Victoria Canada, who built Christopher Bot, a chatbot acting as a scheduler for students, helping to keep track of coursework given across a week. Indeed, from automating customer service through increased bot usage, businesses can expect to save up to $23 billion per year. And that efficiency doesn’t just stop there at customer service management. If artificial intelligence is used correctly, it could revolutionise sales, marketing, and communication across most industries.

 

Bots’ biggest hurdle? Inaccuracy. Whilst 70% described their experiences as positive, 21% have had negative experiences with chatbots. For bots to be successful, and for the brands utilising them, bots must be able to understand what the user is asking for. But most importantly, it must have the ability to sound and act, well, human. The fact of the matter is that, at every level people want to feel that their interactions and experiences, with people and technology are personal and authentic.

 

Despite this, millennials are increasingly open to the idea of chatbots, with up to 80% of business respondents by Oracle stating that their businesses have used or plan to use chatbots by 2020, so there’s a real opportunity here. A further 48% already use bot technology for improving sales, marketing, and customer service, with 40% planning to implement some form of automated technology by 2020.

 

See my interaction with the Burberry, O2, and Skyscanner bots. These three brands have each implemented their bots in completely different ways. I’ve had good, funny experiences with these chatbots—they might be buggy but all and all, they have the potential to provide good services.

 

For example, Burberry uses its bot to brand their newest fashion lines, and goes in depth into product details that a human customer service operator wouldn’t know. And when I say detail, I mean detail, down to the dress length, dress size, even the percentages of cotton to polyamide to the number of mother of pearl buttons on the sleeve. The chatbot is streamlined beautifully to enable the user to peruse this year’s line. And to further incentivise people to go out and buy Burberry products, it updates pricing by location. Admittedly, the bot didn’t seem to understand any of the questions asked but in its defence, when I typed “not helpful” to its queries it did attempt me to connect with a Burberry consultant so there’s an awareness of the limitations to bots.

 

Burberry Chatbot

 

This is in stark contrast to O2’s bot Lucy, describing herself as “virtually real”, who was a pleasure to interact with. O2 is less about branding O2 as the best service provider and was more focused on providing an optimum customer service experience. She’s able to answer a whole range of questions, and to help weigh her answers there was a “Was this helpful: yes/no”. All and all she was very responsive, and the entire experience was like speaking to a real person. Again, she was less for sales and marketing and more for customer service queries. So from this, we can see how 61% of people who use chatbots prefer bots over human interaction to take care of simple requests. Asking Lucy how to add credit to your phone is infinitely easier than waiting on hold for an indeterminate amount of time.

 

o2 Chatbot

 

Other brands use bots as service providing. Look at the Skyscanner chatbot, for example. With a few simple queries (namely, telling the bot your location and were you want to go) you can book tickers from the comfort of your phone. Gone are the days of googling potential flights, Skyscanner automatically checks the best prices for you. It explores flight deals, insider information, and lets you explore your potential destinations. Talk about taking the hassle out of travel. This could prove indispensable in the future, with the ability to have instant access to information and products.

 

Skyscanner Chatbot

 

From these interactions we see how brands use their chatbots for marketing, branding, customer service, and just generally making our lives easier. There’s a serious opportunity here for brands to interact with millennials on this platform, and reflects the personal approach to product engagement that resonates, and is generally craved by, millennials. If brands are smart, they can collect all sorts of useful data on what millennials actually want by directly interacting with them, and tailoring products to these wants. Bots create a new platform of one-on-one conversations between brands and consumers. If that’s not argument enough, when millennials were asked if they were to be more likely to to purchase items and services from brands via chatbots, 67% said were more likely to do so.

 

There’s no doubt that, at the moment, bots can be buggy, and they might not always understand the questions you ask. On occasion, they’ll get it hilariously wrong. But, chatbots’ greatest advantages are their ease and potential utility. Proactive and ahead-of-the-curve businesses can capitalise on this opportunity technology is giving them by interacting one-on-one with a goldmine of potential consumers: millennials.

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