Bots Strategy: Omni CX Strategy Perspective

By now you would have seen or heard about Facebook’s recent F8 announcements — in particular, the reference to Chat Bots, its Messenger Platform and how businesses could transform the experience of their customers using these applications.

You may also have heard of Microsoft’s chief Satya Nadella’s views about the Bot revolution — he sees this shift to computers run by ‘conversation’ as the new idea and believes that the world will soon move away from the Apps — a phase dominated by Apple and Google.

Both, Facebook and Microsoft have charged experience of using apps as being complex, slow and limiting.

Note the following statement from Mark Zuckerberg at F8:

“but I have never met anyone who likes calling a business and no-one wants to have to install a new app for every service or business they interact with — so we think there has got to be a better way to do this…we think you should just be able to message a business in the same way you would message a friend, you should get a quick response and it shouldn’t take your full attention like a phone call would and you shouldn’t have to install a new app

And Satya Nadella to Bloomberg on 31st March, 16:

there isn’t an app for everything, nor should there be…the complexity is too much,” he says. “We need to tame it. We need to be able to make it much more natural for people to get things done, vs. this thing about let me remember the 20 apps I need to get anything done.”

To overcome the complexities and make the experience of consumers and businesses easier (probably naive to assume these are the only drivers for their Bot quest!) — both, Facebook and Microsoft are betting heavily on Chatbots.

Because with Chatbots — you do not have to download, install and sign-in to individual applications for accessing businesses or services — you could use your preferred messaging platform e.g. Messenger, Telegram, Kik, WeChat, Line, Slack, etc to have conversations with multiple businesses in a single Chat session.

Chatbots can bypass Apps completely and provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them.

Qi Lu, EVP, Microsoft said: his 80-year-old mother in Shanghai “lives” in WeChat. She doesn’t trust websites, but she shops and hails cabs on WeChat.

Over 50 million businesses interact with their customers using Facebook company pages already — and now Facebook is launching the Messenger Platform for third parties to develop NLU and A.I powered Bots that could be integrated directly into Messenger and Businesses on Messenger.

This is big news for the service industry as Messenger is one of the largest messaging platform in the world with >600m MAU sending in excess of 60 billion messages per day (3 times the SMS volume). However, Messenger is not available in China.

On the other hand, Microsoft has successfully experimented in China with its NLU and AI powered Chatbot called ‘Xiaoice’ (Tay’s Chinese version — pronounced ‘Shao-ice’) which has been available for 18 months and has over 40 million users — averaging ~23 exchanges per session.

In addition, Microsoft’s Bots Framework platform is catering for the third party developers already and have plans to integrate Skype with Bots in the future.

Unsurprisingly, Google, Apple, Amazon and IBM have also entered the same space and have similar plans to penetrate the market with NLU and A.I. based virtual assistants or Chatbots.

Because of the size and scale of these developments on CX across industries — in this post, I will focus on the strategic considerations concerning the use of Bots for successfully delivering ‘customer promises’ in an Omni Channel context.

Lets start by defining what constitute a Chat Bot.

A generic definition:

A software application cable of communicating with humans, using artificial intelligence.

In a Service context:

A software application cable of delivering personalized service to humans, leveraging both, semi and fully artificial intelligence based capabilities and processes.

In an enterprise value-chain context:

A software application cable of delivering personalized service to humans, leveraging both, semi and fully artificial intelligence based capabilities and processes, and executing predefined tasks and processes.

Chatbots are not new (MIT’s Joseph Weizenbaum introduced ELIZA in 60s) and have been around since mid-90s (remember Microsoft’s Clippy) with services such as IRC. Since then, there have been a range of Chatbot based experimentations and services being made available to public — serving across education, information, entertainment, service, etc.

A few example Chatbot (and text and voice based A.I assistants) services already available:

  • WeChat has ~700m MAU (monthly active users). Users can buy movie tickets, play the lottery, shop and even book travel — all within WeChat platform.
  • Xiaoice — (Tay’s Chinese version) available for 18 months and has 40 million users, averaging around 23 exchanges per session.
  • Siri — Apple’s virtual voice assistant receives a whopping one billion requests a week.
  • Alexa — Voice Service to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more — instantly. Available in the US.
  • Kik — a messaging platform with Bots has 275 million users — and over 40% of american youth uses Kik.
  • Slack — acquired 2.7 million DAU within a year — the corporate messaging service, has bots that can manage your expenses and order the office beer.
  • Watson — an A.I. platform rather than a virtual assistant — however, is likely to be the soul of many Chatbots we will interact with in the future.
  • WDS — machine learning based virtual assistant tool that learns about your customers to ensure that every interaction is better than the last.

Smaller less known experiments:

  • Mitsuku — you need never feel alone again! Apparently, Mitsuku could be your virtual girl friend. Launched 2013.
  • Botster — the friendly, fun, quirky Chatbot — an open A.I. based experiment anyone to access and try. Launched 2011.
  • Cleverbot — Chat to a bot about anything and everything — available to download on iOS and Android devices. Launched 2011.
  • Cronus Bot — Designed to entertain and amuse friends, lives in UAE. Launched 2012.

Strategic Considerations

To date, Bots have been playing a sidekick role in the delivery of CX (knowledge management vendors may disagree with me) — in the future, however, Chatbots are likely to play a much more active role in the execution of Omni Channel CX strategies.

“now to order flowers from 1–800 you never have to call 1–800 flowers again, Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote speech at F8”

Clarity of purpose

In the same way the cluttered web directories gave birth to Google’s minimalistic and easy to use search engine — the world of cluttered websites and app stores have given birth to the introduction of NLU and A.I. based Chatbots.

Ultimately, Chatbots could work ubiquitously and seamlessly across an ecosystem of apps, systems, information repositories, rules, protocols, processes and resources which may also include humans.

The purpose of Chatbots is two-pronged:

  1. cut complexity and accelerate customer journey
  2. aim to deliver a personalized and humanized engagement

Achievement of the above should lead to customer trust, repeat usage and advocacy.

As long as businesses are clear about the purpose of using the Chatbots and weave it accordingly within their overall Omni Channel suite of capabilities — there should be positive outcomes for both customers and businesses.

Authenticity of proposition

Although, A.I. powered Chatbots could strive to deliver the best possible humanized (conscious of feelings and emotions) experience — they are unlikely to be accepted as humans by customers (a discriminatory statement against Chatbots — I know) — so despite the success rates in NLU recognition or A.I. conversations leading to positive outcomes — organizations shouldn’t portray an inauthentic picture of their service.

In other words, organizations should be transparent and communicate clearly about their use of virtual assistants or Chatbots when providing sales or service to their customers — other considerations include:

  • establishing clear understanding of target customer personas before deciding to sell or serve them via Chatbots
  • use of design thinking techniques for developing an effective persona (imagine leveraging personality matching and behavior pairing systems — eHarmony.com, match.com, afiniti.com, etc)
  • timely and clear posting of handovers between automated and assisted resources to develop the desired engagement
  • giving customers a choice to engage or opt out of service

“When you start early, there’s a risk you get it wrong. I know we will get it wrong. Tay is going to offend somebody” — Lili Cheng, GM, Microsoft.

When it come to the use of virtual assistants — history is riddled with ineffective working practices that have led to an undesired effects on businesses and hence businesses should consider careful and thorough planning including experimentation — an important part of their Chatbot strategy.

Solution design

When it comes to Bots — there are different communication and solution design options/questions to be considered.

For instance:

  • Customer, contact, channel and workforce optimization strategies should be considered as an integral part of service design effort.
  • Do you develop your own proprietary Bot, purchase one, lease one or develop one using Facebook, Microsoft, (etc) platforms?
  • In addition to engaging with the customers — Bots could also be used to facilitate and accelerate communication between employees (front, back-office, cross departments/ functions and destinations, etc).
  • Similarly, Bots could also be used to execute pre-defined processes across the enterprise (service, manufacturing or trading context).
  • What stage of Bot evolution do you join — smoke and mirrors/ WoZ leveraging manual workforce to support pre-defined workflows/ processes, hybrid or fully automated A.I. capabilities?
  • Should you use content and knowledge management as the basis for your Chatbot proposition or drive it from digital channels (Chat, Click to Call, etc) perspective?

Go to market strategy

Although there is a risk that overshooting may cause the Chatbot ecosystem to become convoluted in the beginning — customer oriented planning can help overcome potential obstacles.

  • Bots could be embedded in your websites and messaging applications (Facebook is making it easy for developers to embed Messenger bots on their websites). Similarly, if you use Skype, Twitter, WhatsApp or WeChat to serve or sell to your customers then introduction of Chatbots will become an unavoidable consideration for your business — as your customers are likely to expect them for repetitive, well-defined and predictable tasks.
  • As part of your go-to-market strategy — do you engage with customers directly, via intermediaries or through/within platforms?
  • Which platforms should you choose to engage with your customers?

Management and governance

The below is a non-exhaustive list concerning management and governance issues surrounding introduction and running of Chatbots:

  • Should you manage Chatbots in a silo (chaos alert!) or as part of an overall Omni Channel proposition?
  • Should Chatbots confine to text based channels only or launched across voice based channels as well?
  • Who is the owner, accountable, responsible, manager, developer, supporter, reporter, approver, improver of Chatbots?
  • How do you ensure your Chatbot isn’t spamming your users — have clear contact strategy principles and rules moderating and improving your conversations.
  • How do you sustain and develop required knowledge, skills and experience for supporting different Chatbot propositions and platforms?

I hope you find the above insights useful and can leverage some of these to think and develop an effective Chatbot strategy for your business.

If you are already using Chatbots to serve your customers or experimenting — then please do share your views (non-competitive of course), insights and experiences via the comments section below.

— — — -

As stated earlier, Chatbots aren’t new and have been around for a while across both, the voice and text based channels in different forms (web based search crawlers, automated voice based assistants in IVR, knowledge management and FAQ based bots suggesting answers, etc.). What is different this time is the extensive use of A.I. or machine learning based techniques and approaches that are developing rapidly.

I think Chatbots are here to stay (due to an implicit customer demand and other factors mentioned in the above post) and will continue to evolve — their role will evolve from a searcher of information, an executer of pre-defined and repetitive tasks, a predictor of customer intent to a proactive provisioner of services.

Overtime, Chatbots will also become sensitive (perhaps imperfectly) to human emotions — though that will take considerable amount of time.

The success of Chatbots could help businesses become lean, fast and provision information and services at scale — at the same time, there could be job losses caused by automation of tasks and services.

Other questions that you may think of and impacts on businesses:

  • review of your digital investment and leveraging of existing and planned digital capabilities and assets
  • how would product strategy and roadmaps of vendors shape — knowledge management suppliers, voice and digital channel capability providers e.g. if you only offer Chat today — what would the rise of Chatbots mean to your proposition?
  • what would be the economic impact of Bots on an enterprise value chain?
  • do we ask the customers about their willingness to use the Chatbots or are their types (Gen Y, Z, etc) and behavior (60 billion messages per day on Messenger, etc) towards using similar technologies is enough to invest?

To discuss this topic further — you can get in touch with me on zaheer.gilani@omnixco.com or call me directly on +44(0)7984357010

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