Technology is evolving past messaging platforms, and chatbots are the next wave. Bots are considered the new generation of apps set to change the communication industry by enhancing digital operations and improving overall customer experience. Ever since applications such as Facebook expanded to include messenger services, businesses have had access to new and interesting ways of interacting with their customers. Chatbots as a conversational piece of software offering unique opportunities for brands to leverage off artificial intelligence (AI) to answer questions without the need of a human operator. Bots (or chatbots) seem to be taking the technology world by storm, raising many questions about what they actually are, how they work, and the unique opportunities they offer in business practices.
WHAT ARE CHATBOTS?
Simply put, chatbots are services that allow people to converse with a computer, using a simple chat-like interface. Some Chabot’s are straightforward. For example, ordering a pizza where the flow of conversation is set to include sizing and options for the crust, toppings, and amount of cheese. Others are more complex, for example, troubleshooting an internet problem or making a medical diagnosis. Chatbots guide the interactions of a user via text or voice interface and can live within any software application with a built-in messaging platform, such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, Text Messages, etc. Chatbots ideally eliminate the need to do a comprehensive web search or engage with multiple apps. For example, through the bot, you can order and pay for meals, as well as book a table at a restaurant through Facebook Messenger.
A couple of chatbot examples include:
- CNN (general example)
- Dominos Chat Bot (customer service example)
- Unicorn Bay
Bots as viable customer support solutions provide value to businesses, by minimizing human effort and pain.
HOW DO CHATBOTS WORK?
Firstly, chatbots aren’t intelligent on their own; humans make them so. As such, Chabot’s recognize keywords from a user’s input and consequently pick up on context and intent, answering questions rapidly from a database of pre-defined responses. In other words, the chatbot will answer questions based on keywords inputted by the user. For example, a user could ask the bot:
User: I’m going to London next week. I’m looking for a great Burger, where should I go?
Chatbot: “Burger Mania” has great reviews, can I make a reservation?
The user is sending a text with the word “Burger”. The chatbot is most likely to say something like “People seem to like Burger Mania” or “Burger Mania has high ratings”.
The idea is simple, a computer program responds to a user based on how it has been programmed, creating an illusion of having understood the actual question asked. Through a predefined set of libraries and APIs, the chatbot is able to match patterns depending on how human-like and intelligent the predefined patterns are. More advanced chatbots utilise machine learning whereby the entire language is understood instead of just simple commands. Machine learning refers to the ability of the chatbot to continuously get smarter the more conversations it has with people.
ARE CHATBOTS A HUGE OPPORTUNITY?
Messaging apps are overtaking social networks as the preferred platforms on phones. This is changing the way people interact and communicate. Research shows a trend where smartphone users have reduced their time browsing multiple apps. Instead, they prefer to have one browser, a few messaging platforms, and fewer social apps. Naturally, this has led to scarcer opportunities for businesses to make money through mobile apps. Chatbots as examples of software that can converse with prospective customers on their devices in real-time are free to use. Aside from this, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Programming (NLP) have provided opportunities to automate the execution of commands making chatbots respond to what users ask for. In terms of huge opportunities, they offer customers an innovative way to interact with brands and help businesses to streamline tasks and processes that enable them to sell more. Although during the early stages, chatbots require a high level of human involvement (to collate data about consumer behaviors and preferences as well as train the AI on solving customer needs), they can be a very profitable step for businesses.
HOW ARE CHATBOTS BUILT?
Given the 2 types of bots; one that follows commands and the other which integrates machine learning, the process of building a chatbot is likewise, divided into 2 main tasks. Understanding the users’ intention and producing the correct response. For the chatbots that assume a command-based approach, the developer will provide coding rules for the system. With the machine learning approach, machine learning parameters are defined, but for the most part, the chatbot learns everything through streaming data and human-to-human dialogue.
Chatbots can be built using different platforms and resources. Some of the available platforms include Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, etc. These platforms can be customised to meet the various needs of users and developers.
In essence, it may take some time for AI and messaging platforms to fully replace websites. Nonetheless, these kinds of technologies do offer innovative ways to understand natural human language and as such, present the prospect of improving service, saving money, and increasing consumer engagement.