Bots for business

I’ve had the basis of this post in draft for a while, originally titled “Conversational UI for retail”, but like lots of my drafts, it wasn’t quite finished and lacked a hook so it lay dormant for a while, Facebook’s recent F8 announcement was the nudge I needed to get it finished.

There’s been lots of chatter recently (no pun intended) about bots, helping to bring the concept into the mainstream even before mass adoption has taken hold. Ahead of the Facebook F8 developer conference, BBC Radio 4 ran a piece on apps being in decline.

Satya Nedella is betting the future of Microsoft on bots (although their recent bot got rapped for being racist). At a recent developer conference he spent a large chunk of the 3 hour session talking about how we’ll interact with computers via AI. “Bots are the new apps”. “People-to-people conversations, people-to-digital assistants, people-to-bots and even digital assistants-to-bots. That’s the world you’re going to get to see in the years to come.”

Yesterday Facebook held their annual developer conference; F8, where the future of bots were a big theme. Zuckerberg launched the Messenger Platform, a way for developers (and therefore brands) to build bots that talk to users in places that they’re already active.

Every month, over 900 million people around the world communicate with friends, families and over 50 million businesses on Messenger.

With almost 900 million people using Messenger, Facebook has the critical mass to move bots into the mainstream. The interesting thing here is that communicating over chat isn’t a new paradigm for users, so the hook for getting users to engage will come down to how effective a bot is at performing tasks, and the utility that the tasks perform.

Lucy, by 02

Platforms like Slack have had the concept of bots for a few years, but the Facebook approach goes one step further by bringing together a suite of tools to allow developers to quickly build and integrate logic into their bots, not just a way to get messages in and out of the platform. It’s this logic that enables bots to move from simple transactional messaging platforms to assistants. Using AI in chat isn’t entirely new. Back in 2008, o2 launched Lucy; an AI powered virtual assistant that would supposedly help users diagnose and solve issues by connecting their questions to their FAQ database. Facebook are hoping that by having a platform that processes over 60 billion messages a day, functionality similar to Lucy will be in one place on their platform, rather than fragmented across the internet.

Messenger and WhatsApp process 60 billion messages a day, three times more than SMS.

However, to really leverage the power of bots, it’s crucial for brands to have robust, solid and open API’s — methods that allow for data and connections to be made between systems so that the functionality contained within their respective platforms can be opened up to a chat interface.

The future of bots however isn’t just limited to virtual assistants. Both CNN and Uber are already allowing their core utility to be leveraged within Messenger, with KLM also allowing passengers to check their flight status and check in to flights.

The key for brands is to really understand what it is that their users are trying to achieve, and then align that with the right channels in order to provide useful services. It’s not just about chat as customer service, but instead letting users complete tasks and interact with services by having a conversation. Coined the conversational UI, apps like Messenger, Whatsapp and Snapchat open up a new channel for traditional app consumption. Brands that are able to adapt and integrate with these various channels and remain useful are the ones that will succeed.

If you’re unsure where to start with bots, what they are or how they could be useful for your brand, why not add a comment below, or get me on Twitter @leonbarrett.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Leon Barrett’s story.