Companies have experimented with different tactics to communicate with customers and prospects, including through blogs, emails, social networks, and now, robots or chatbots, which are also known by other names including virtual agents, chatterbots, dialogue systems, or machine conversation systems.
A chatbot is a software application that interacts with users using natural language. Chatbots are intended to simulate a human conversation; in other words, their architecture features a language model and computational algorithms that imitate casual chat communication between a computer and a human user using natural language.The Complete Beginner’s Guide To Chatbots. Everything you need to know. Click To Tweet
Chatbot services are governed by artificial intelligence (AI) and rules that are administered via a chat interface. These services can be fun-based or activity-based, and can be integrated into any major chat product, including Text Messages, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, etc.
Here are some examples of how chatbots work:
Here are some top examples:
- News bot – Ask it to alert you whenever something interesting occurs
- Weather bot – To get weather information on request
- Grocery bot – To help you pick out and order groceries
- Personal finance bot – To help you with money management
- Life advice bot – You feed it your problems and it helps you find solutions
- Scheduling bot – Helps you arrange meetings at Facebook
A friend – Xiaoice is a Microsoft bot that speaks with over 20 million people in China as a companion
Indeed, both are an interesting and exciting new technology that is taking advantage of the growing use of messenger apps, even more than social networks.
How Chatbots work
Chatbots generally function based on one of two criteria: a set of rules, or machine learning for the more advanced versions.
These bots are very limited in their capabilities, and can only respond to specific commands. The complexity of the bot depends on how it has been programmed, and cannot respond to commands that it has not been fed, exactly as they are.
Machine learning bots
These bots are designed using artificial intelligence, meaning that they have an artificial brain. You don’t need to use exact messaging or be very specific when chatting with them as they understand both commands and language. In fact, these bots continuously get smarter as they learn from conversations with people.Although bots appear to be simple modules, they are not that easy to create in order to provide a great experience. This is particularly so for commerce bots that require integrations to APIs, error checking, routing and live human support, no back buttons, understand NLP, and so on.
No matter how simple or complex chatbots may appear, they consist of four key elements:
A means of getting information into and out of the bot. Currently, there is text-typing input, though some companies are working on voice input, while output can be visual or verbal.
A set of cases
The information or knowledge of the bot, which could include details about itself, the world, your brand, etc.
The ability to offer added functionality such as reading a database, sending emails, remembering user information, etc.
To review the chatbot interactions for performance improvements.
Why are chatbots important now?
The idea of chatbots and using AI to streamline processes has been around for a while now, but its implementation has only recently become possible owing to advances in technology that have made it possible to make chatbots a much richer and engaging experience. Furthermore, businesses are increasingly adopting broadband, so they can fully take advantage of internet based technologies that support chatbots.
Using Chatbots in business
It is important to note that chatbots do not necessarily introduce new capabilities; rather, they centralize where and how your customers and prospects engage using social media as their operating system.
Users interact with bots in three ways:
- Customer service
- Content consumption
- Transactional engagements
Social media plays a big role in facilitating engagement between brands and consumers, but the role of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other platforms is limited to acting as a gateway to direct visitors to the company website, blog, or other channels. Bots provide another function to social media; so instead of acting as portals, they become platforms for consumers to receive information, make inquiries, and make purchases.
One of the ways that chatbots have successfully integrated with social media is in regard to customer service. Research suggests that more than 33 percent of customers prefer using social media for customer support rather than the telephone, and most of them expect speedy responses within minutes. Responding to queries that fast can be quite taxing for most companies, which is why the AI supported chatbots are becoming increasingly popular.
User interaction with a chatbot is quite different from the frustrating automated voice response associated with most phone customer service. Bots offer faster and better interaction, which is important for customer retention as many consumers easily get impatient with slow customer service.
AI-based chatbots can quickly comprehend the contextual problem or request from a customer, so they don’t have to take them through a series of selection menus to try and narrow down their concerns.
The adoption of chatbots offers many benefits for businesses, including:
Using chatbots for intra-organizational communications
As chatbots continue to become popular in business-to-consumer communications, millions of workers have been taking advantage of chatbots to interact with each other in popular group chat platforms like HipChat and Slack.
In HipChat, for instance, bots are assigned different personalities that can perform different tasks such as counting items or finding photos. Slack, on the other hand, uses a bot known as Slackbot that can be programmed to perform work-related duties such as answering basic questions and setting reminders.
Slack also recently released BotKit to encourage developers to build their own. The initiative saw the release of bots like Workbot, which allows people to talk to programs that integrate with Slack, such as MailChimp and Salesforce.
The use of bots within the work environment is aimed at making internal employee communications easier, faster, and light-hearted while saving money.
Overstock employees are already using an app in their phones or desktops to communicate with Mila when they are not feeling well to report to work. This system has replaced the more burdensome call-in hotline for ailing employees.
Previously, when any of the 450 people employed at Overstock’s Salt Lake City call center wanted to report that they were unwell, they had to make a call and leave a message. Someone had to check those messages and inform the manager, who would then replace the employee on the schedule.
With the Mila chatbot, employees who are too ill to report to work will tell Mila that they are unwell using an app. Mila will then respond to the message, and after a short interaction, Mila will alert the appropriate manager so they can make the necessary schedule adjustments. The interaction is similar to that of having an office assistant, except that it is not. Additionally, Mila makes the interaction seamless, allowing for faster employee replacements and huge savings.
Besides chatting in sick, employees can use the bot to check their schedules, schedule time off, and perform other tasks that previously required them to send an email, make a phone call, or schedule an appointment with the boss.
This is just one example of the application of chatbots in the workplace. However, the adoption of bots in the workplace is still quite low, with most work chatbots providing information that is already available.
The Tay bot introduced by Microsoft, for instance, has an employee chatbot called ADbot whose work is to draw information from the company directory. The company is also creating a bot that will operate on the intranet for employees to ask simple questions, which should prove to be helpful especially for new, uninformed workers. The digital assistant can respond to all kinds of questions, like the location of a meeting, available meals at the café, whether a colleague is in the field or office, etc.
There are many industries that could benefit from employing work bots, including insurance, restaurants, and mortgage industries, where any internal concerns can be handled automatically. Although they can learn, they don’t have to be that smart. Making basic office tasks more convenient is good enough for now.
Using chatbots in everyday life
Besides enjoying faster interactions with businesses, consumers are also benefiting from bots through personalization. Bots are complex programs that are capable of a lot more than simply completing assigned tasks. With proper developments, chatbots are capable of learning continuously so as to understand the context of the user’s mannerisms.
With social media integration, chatbots already have access to a rich source of data that can help them understand user habits around when they use their devices to read status updates, topics of interest, their most valued relationships, regular places of visits, and their schedules, and then leverage this information to deliver relevant information, updates, and recommendations with regard to user location and perspective.
The future of chatbots
Many businesses are already using social media data to deliver targeted content to specific audiences, demographics, and locations. But there is still no means to fully personalize what, when, and how content will be delivered to prospects and customers. Even the chatbots currently available on Facebook could use some improvements in this area since they only seem to send a plethora of updates and push notifications for the sake of sharing updates and news.
Although bot-driven social media interaction is the future, it will still take some time and innovation before the bots can take over most processes. There are many challenges to overcome, from the need to improve contextual understanding of what, when, and how to share updates, to developing a common language or intuitive methodology to start or end chatbot conversations.
That said, the single fact that artificial intelligence learns means that the more bots are employed in different situations, the better they become at optimizing service delivery. In fact, bots are expected to become mainstream in the next 3 – 5 years. With this, brand-consumer interactions will change a lot as bots become better equipped to manage text content, providing richer ways to interact that possibly include augmented and virtual reality.