Food for thought — Will chatbots disrupt the way customers and businesses interact in the GCC?

Nov 11, 2016 · 4 min read

A major reason for the huge success of companies like Google or Facebook is that they are improving services and products by building ecosystems around them (read more about building ecosystem here). Looking at past developments, the mobile trend has migrated from mobile websites to mobile applications, to an extent where it is currently inevitable for companies to not own an application for their services. As a result, people need to download apps and often register for everything they want to do on their smartphone — be it chatting with friends, reading the news, shopping, booking a flight or even ordering a cab.

Nevertheless, current disruptive trends like chatbots could mean that these applications might no longer be required in order to get customized information from companies.

To understand where this trend is going, it is helpful to take a closer look at what chatbots actually are. Basically, these are software applications that will run automated tasks over the internet, simulating an exchange with another person — but in reality, no human interaction is needed. Using artificial intelligence, these bots improve the capabilities of responding in a flexible manner. And as machine learning and natural language processing techniques are progressing even further, chatbots will be even smarter than average bots so far, providing an even more real impression of human interaction and self-improving the more you use them.

Trendsetting companies like Google, Microsoft or Facebook not only contributed a major role in the process of making applications popular but also are laying the crucial foundation for a whole new disruption of these by implementing chatbot technology and therefore pushing the thriving economy of data-driven business models even further.

Facebook has launched their chatbot ‚Messenger Platform’ earlier this year. As a result, businesses will from now on have the opportunity to improve their customer service by implementing easy-to-apply chatbots like ‘Messenger Platform’ within their corporate account within the social network. This given, the currently often unstructured communications between customers and businesses through public posts on Facebook will shift towards automated communication within the messenger — or as Zuckerberg said it in the F8 Keynote 2016, the aim of chatbot technology will be: ‘messaging a business like you message a friend’.

But how will this technology impact business in the Gulf region? According to statistics from the Telecom Regulatory Authority, by 2014 Oman had already 1.700.000 (roughly 40%) more mobile subscriptions than the number of people living in the Sultanate. Countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE or even Kuwait have smartphone penetration rates growing over 200%, meaning that the average person owns at least two smartphones. Furthermore, over 85% of the online population in the GCC region use social media platforms like Facebook on a daily basis. Combined with the fact that frequent B2C, as well as C2B communication, is already established on platforms like Facebook, the impact of chatbots for companies and the e-commerce sector within the region will be tremendous. The results of this technology will provide easier, structured and more frequent interaction between businesses and customers within a familiar environment. All of this leading to a very unique and pleasant customer experience.

Probably the best news for companies that are interested in the latest chatbot technology is, that it doesn’t need high coding expertise in order to implement it, as Facebook is planning on structuring the ‘Messenger Platform’ more like a store, where you can select between chatbots with different sets of skills and features. Nevertheless, if you do feel like coding and creating your personalized bot — thanks to being open source, ‘Messenger Platform’ will give you the possibility to integrate your individual chatbot software as well.

Integrating chatbots within Facebook messenger will not only provide the benefits mentioned above, but it is also a crucial step for improving the ecosystem around Facebooks social network(s). Obviously, the use of chatbot technology will not be limited to Facebook messenger, but could also be implemented on networks like WhatsApp or even Instagram. Furthermore, innovative companies like the startup called Talla already started working on chatbots that could replace HR managers when it comes to the onboarding process of new employees, managing to-do lists and further — making the chatbot your own personal assistant at the workplace.

Chatbots are clearly more than just another trendy buzzword in the technology sector. Even though basic bots like Siri have been around for a while now, the improvements in their skills and the broader integration within social media platforms will definitely increase their importance in our everyday life.

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