The chatbot hype

Bots are not a replacement for websites

You might’ve heard about this “new” thing, bots. You’ve probably used Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Kik or any other messaging app before. You have probably downloaded more messaging apps on your phone than any other sort of app in the past months.

People like to talk to people they know or want to get to know, more so than publicly on social media. This behavior and the increased transparency of businesses has moved the customer interaction towards messaging apps. These apps have decided to follow WeChat in its’ offering of integrations and structured messages, to allow businesses to easier sell their products and services within the app. Multiple choice answers, product images, order confirmations, payments, status updates and even plane tickets are all possible without having to download another app on your phone.

Hype

If you follow technology trends you probably know all of this already, but I doubt bots will replace websites. Why? Most of all, because bots are mostly a hype right now.

The “Peak of Inflated Expectations” is another word for “hype bubble”. Gartner can’t predict the future, but looking at the chaos that is going in in the “chatbot world” should say it all. CEO’s of big companies are stumbling over each other to give their “insightful” perspective to the future of messaging and Artificial Intelligence, serving as proof to developers and businesses that they should invest time and money in those platforms as soon as possible. New bots, bot creators and bot platforms are released at least every week, trying to catch the hype wave but never providing any additional value over existing products. This creates an artificial demand, bot makers use bot creators or bot platforms, and bot creators use bot platforms.

“If there are so many products and services, it can’t be just hype, right?”

A lot of “supply” does not mean a lot of “demand”. Facebook claimed there are 33.000 Messenger Bots, but I want to know how many of those have more than one user. Same goes for all the chatbots, bot creators and bot platforms. The fact that a lot of these platforms offer their services for a very low price or even for free, is more proof that the market is saturated before it has even taken off. Because of this, there is a disconnect between what the user wants and what they get.

People download a lot less apps to their phone now, will the same happen to the hundreds of thousands of chatbots and platforms?

Horrible User Experience

I believe the hype around chatbots is mostly a response to the bad UX of a lot of websites. Just typing what you want and getting an instant response is a lot easier than the slow and confusing things called websites.

Last week I wanted to check the price for a second-hand Tesla Model S (even though I know I can’t afford that either), and saw this. Instead of being able to type “Tesla Model S”, I was forced to click on this massive dropdown list. At first I didn’t notice that the top group are popular brands, so I re-read the upper list multiple times and even started to doubt my alphabetical skills.

On my phone I have to scroll through roughly seventeen(!) full screen lengths to find “Tesla”..

Window shopping

Conversational User Interfaces are perfect for users that know exactly what they want. You want red Nike Air Max 1, size US11? Just typing that sentence should be enough, especially when the bot has your address and payment information. But in the very least, websites will remain to exist as a catalog and “lookbook” for inspiration and mixing and matching your outfit.

The best thing you can do as a website owner is to take a moment to learn what bots are offering and the possibilities people are suggesting. You could for example learn from your customer based on their purchases and make tailored suggestions only for them. Gartner also makes predictions for Digital Marketing, and in July 2016 they predicted that Personalization will reach mainstream in 2 to 5 years. Get personal with your customers, starting with your own website. This will make it easier to branch out to other channels like chat. Giving customers exactly what they want with a messaging app is a whole lot easier if you already know what they’ve bought and what they like.

Dumb bots

Bots should be dumb. At least for a while.

The CNN bot doesn’t understand much, but does it really need to? It tells you about breaking news and gives you snippets and links to articles you may like to read. You don’t need to chat with the bot or ask its’ opinions, to CNN this bot is just another platform to broadcast their news.

Most use cases are like this. A shopping bot just needs to understand basic commands to ease the transaction for the user, with a webshop they know and a product they want.

This doesn’t replace a website, but it does make it easier for a specific group of users to get exactly what they want. Chat also isn’t meant for long text, so reading an article like this in a chat bubble half your screen while getting notifications from other chats will at the very least be a challenge.

The good

I do believe bots and everything surrounding them will improve the User Experience for all digital user interfaces. Replacing search-like interfaces like the massive dropdown lists, giving users what they want faster and easier. Same goes for Customer Support, having an intelligent FAQ and Q&A Bot will allow visitors to self-service their questions and needs. The current technology does need a lot of work, and a new kind of User Experience with scripted messages and structured conversations. I hope the focus will be on simple and easy-to-use conversations, only focusing on the core and giving users what they want. There are a lot of things that seem related to bots, but are simple integrations that you should implement regardless of the chosen platform. Personalized suggestions, order notifications, gamification, text-based search and other features are all possible with the current technology you are using right now.

Let’s move past the mania for bots responding to “Hello”, and focus on providing a better overall experience for your users.

So what do you think about bots and messaging apps, and their future?