Chatbots are becoming a common sight across the IT and consumer landscape. Tech pundits call them a paradigm shift, helping fuel the hype. But for acceptance to grow, they need to deliver trust and improved experiences for users.
Chatbots are also rapidly evolving from a script-based approach to using AI technologies like NLP to help them work smarter. The future of chatbots is straightforward, a drive toward smarter customer interaction, even if the road to get there will take many twists and turns. For now, most bots perform simple tasks, freeing up workers from handling basic levels of customer or client interaction.
But success still requires hard work and skill in building the right type of bots In the near future, only those Chatbots that people see as delivering great value will build enough trust, and therefore gain explicit permission from users, letting them automate and perform more personal, involved or detailed personalise tasks.
Consider how people have let the likes of Alexa and Siri into their lives. Future chatbots will be just as personal, only related to specific tasks related to a company, service or a focused area of the user’s life (such as sports bots or providing financial advice).
To get a hint of that future, look at Asia where businesses are forced by user numbers to adopt chatbot technologies, and where people are more willing to accept these technologies as part of a mobile-first culture. Chatbot use is massive in Asia and trust is implicit in their use.
How to navigate the AI/chatbot hype
But, stepping back a little. Vendors and marketers love to throw AI into the air as a catch-all solution to a growing range of business problems. Chatbots are in the vanguard of this movement, with hundreds of thousands of examples providing strong real-world benefits. However, the hype wave can easily oversell the benefits, so businesses need to get pragmatic real-world experience.
Any company should explore its business to find out where a chatbot could provide benefits. The simple questions are:
How does the chatbot benefit the company?
How does the chatbot benefit the customer?
Can we measure success and improvement?
Tasks for your bots could be from the usual suspects of customer service to a knowledge base, sales tool or a digital concierge system. Look at rivals to see what they are doing with chatbots, use them yourself and see where they are useful or fall down.
When it comes to building bots, find a platform that can help build chatbots that works at your level. The likes of IBM, Salesforce and Google all tout their enterprise-friendly credentials, but their generalist approach will lead many to specialist vendors. SnatchBot is a great example, working with big and small brands, adding AI technologies as they become practical, and providing a large library of templates and working examples to serve as source material or inspiration.
Build the first bots as experiments and do plenty of internal testing, from the perspective of end users, to see how they work, how to improve them and ensure they deliver on the company goals. When the bot is ready to deploy, ensure your make customers aware of its capabilities and ensure the bot is where your customers are, be that on Facebook, in an app or communications tool.
Finally, don’t hype your bot as a game changer or a complete product. Market it as a growing and evolving tool to help customers. Demonstrate the benefits and monitor analytics to find weak spots, room for improvement and ensure the consumer has a positive experience. And, always, ensure there’s an exit point to a human contact if the bot cannot resolve a query.
Businesses need to welcome bots
Chatbots have the power to put a growing business in front of a massive audience. Many digital business companies have tiny staffing and IT footprints, but a massive reach. Depending on the size and scale of the business or its customer base, they can deliver a range of bots, providing a mix of high impact, high business value services to simpler but high value to the customer services.
Judge each bot or potential chatbot project on a case-by-case basis to help solve annoying or repetitive tasks. Look where they can free workers up to perform more rewarding tasks, and look at the data results from chatbots to see where they can provide a business advantage.
As industries and consumers benefit from automation in smart homes, sat navs, factories and so on, the chatbot will find its place in many companies, helping deliver service benefits and automated response.
Aside from the typical benefits of saving time, reducing workload and streamlining processes, businesses should look to chatbots to help build a brand, deliver personality and engage with customers, all part of the digital landscape, but something where bots are uniquely positioned to help with.
Looking to the future of bots
Even today, the bot landscape is changing, and any business plans will need to address where the technology is heading, and how that can help a company win in its marketplace. Soon bots will be talking to each other, or passing customers between them to deliver a joined-up approach to answering questions and delivering information.
Context analysis and intent understanding will help make better bots that can drive the conversation, moving us on from the hand-holding that currently takes place in many bots. But most of all, chatbots are likely to gain a voice, to work either as text-based systems or voice assistants, to better function on mobile devices, smart home gadgets or when customers are driving and so on.
Trust, reputation & identity will help build your bot
There is also the key issue of trust among users. People will recognise chatbots as having an identity, something the business can build on to generate trust, and increase the desire to use the bot.
Identity breeds trust, and the business will need to demonstrate up front that each chatbot is secure, that personal or discrete conversations are encrypted or destroyed. People will also want to know how bots come up with recommendations or solutions, being transparent about key information is something that the bot will need to provide.
With trust comes reputation, something that goes up and down, but each company will need to monitor how people view the bots. Reputation can be destroyed by failed conversations, less than 24/7 ability, or no way to reach a person.
Finally, as bots progress up the AI ladder to become experts, they will need to prove that they are free from prejudice or internal bias (something marketing-focused, political, health or similar bots must be especially careful about).
All of these are considerations for any business looking to provide customers with bot services.
Key takeaways: what businesses need to do first
Any business should develop a focus on how personal technologies can benefit the customer. They should study the current bot state-of-the-market for easy wins, and design initial chatbots to perform specific tasks. Provide clear and careful message to users about what it can do, and what it can’t.
Then, plan future chatbots with AI in mind to deliver a broadening scope of services, looking to automate increasingly complex tasks, ensuring chat is part of a wave of services like virtual assistants and traditional customer service to help clients.
Look for dedicated chatbot providers that are focused on dealing with your issues and will grow their product in line with your needs. Focus on building trust and value into the bots to ensure repeated use, and to generate a sense of understanding and fondness among users.
What started out as a market providing simple bots providing a little company information has rapidly become a massive industry. One with huge potential to change how businesses and consumers interact. Just as companies adopted IT, websites, apps and social media, they will need chatbots to help speed up how the business operates and to address growing customer bases.
Each company needs to monitor how their bots succeed and ask what they can deliver next. Be prepared to apply upcoming technologies, and look at the tech news to see where the success stories and failures around chatbots can inform decision making. Check out this series on how chatbots are impacting different verticals: