A chatbot is a service, powered by rules and sometimes machine learning or artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface. The service could be any number of things, ranging from functional to fun, and it could live in any major chat product (Facebook Messenger, Line, Viber, Slack etc.).
Why the sudden furore, you might be asking yourself.
“People are now spending more time in messaging apps than
in social media and that is a huge turning point. Messaging apps
are the platforms of the future and bots will be how their users
access all sorts of services.”
— Peter Rojas, Partner, Betaworks
When chatbots are in their namesake environs, they can scale utility and consumer benefit in an unprecedented fashion, minus the attrition seen when moving consumers from platform to platform. Unilever’s Knorr “Aunty Reply” on Line, in Thailand, is a perfect example. Having identified that three in four mums in Thailand use Line to chat with the family, and that they suffer the globally common paradox of choice when it comes to what to prepare for dinner, the bot Auntie Reply allows mums to either enter in the ingredients they have to be suggested a recipe, or seek outright inspiration.
While chatbots got their name through a mix of medium and modality, we’re already seeing them break out of the confines of ‘chat’ environments. IBM Watson and The North Face have built genuinely utility-driven bots which navigates consumers through the process of choosing clothing based on the activity, weather conditions and textile preference. Using a mix of natural language processing, available metadata such as weather prediction and product mapping, it follows the same conversational pattern you would expect to have with an in-store sales representative. It is an absolute success when it comes to benefitting the consumer experience.
UX designers working with bots find themselves needing to pivot from a detailed and rich visual design language to the absolute distillation of a brand’s purpose and proposition.
"We have to unlearn everything we learned the past 20 years
to create an amazing experience in this new browser.”
— Shane Mac, CEO of Assist
Unlike most revolutionary marketing technologies, which seem to drive a wedge between organisational functions, the inner workings of a chatbot actually benefit from the experience of other stakeholders within the organisation. In the North Face example, the chatbot mimics the conversational pattern of an in-store sales representative, which is a skillset ordinarily far removed from a digital marketing expert’s.
Most brand bots are fun but gimmicky, so arguably the most beneficial application of bots is in the service area. One such example, which most people outside of China would never have heard of, is dubbed ‘Xiaomi’. Alibaba’s customer service chatbot served 6.32 million customers on the day of the 11.11 sales in China. She handled the workload equivalent of 52,000 customer service representatives, working 24 hours non-stop, and could be conversed with via voice or text.
We know, from following the mobile payment landscape in China, that even seeming ubiquity in a market that size doesn’t necessarily translate into a global standard.
And yet, since the Facebook chatbot platform launched in April, more than 11,000 bots have been added to Messenger alone. In August, VentureBeat introduced its Bots Landscape, a mapping of more than 170 companies, representing more than $4 billion in funding, that are playing in the bot field. So bots are globally scalable, can be local platform-specific, they’re heavily funded in terms of development ecosystem, and are far more than a tactic or a format du jour.
Bots represent a stake in the ground, an evolutionary step in interface design and in the way that consumers will interact with brands and services in the now and near future.
What future could Bots pave the path for, then? Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced during his 2016 Google I/O keynote that 20 percent of queries on their mobile app and on Android devices are voice searches. He spoke about this in the context of introducing Google’s new Amazon Echo/Dot competitor, Google Home. These are all powered by voice-based personal assistants.
Why unlock your phone, open the app, select then order an Uber, or even a pizza, when you can ask Siri/Alexa/Cortana/Google to facilitate that otherwise tedious multi-step process?
“Language is the most natural interface humans understand,
and that’s the interface that bots use. Instead of needing to
constantly learn visual interfaces, bots will enable us to naturally
use language, the first interface we were ever taught… I believe
that it’s very likely that bots will completely kill websites and mobile apps.”
— Matt Schlicht, CEO of Octane AI.
Bots are the walk if personal assistants are the run. Learn by doing the former if you want to fulfil your potential with the latter.
The rise of bots is the wakeup call we all need to get our (brand) house in order. It forces us to index information in a way that a bot can readily access and understand. It forces us to ensure that purpose and utility are front and centre when it comes to user experience.
In the same way paid search strategies have mapped consumer need and intent with content, bots and their generationally technological elders, in the form of personal assistants, will perform tasks with outcome in mind. Opportunity to discover then capitalize on need and intent will be the battlegrounds of tomorrow, as the opportunity to deliver content is today.
Start by listening to your consumers, because somewhere they have their virtual hands raised for a problem that frankly a bot could solve.
|James Lewin is the Head of Innovation at Mindshare, Asia Pacific|