Does my business need a chatbot?

Chatbots are here again. Do I need one?

There has been a lot of buzz about “chatbots” — applications that make use of a conversational user interface instead of graphical one (which has been the norm in the past decade or three). As with any buzz-worthy technology trend, there is the usual confusion about what exactly is a chatbot — and depending on how many articles you have read, it is anywhere between an easier-to-use IVR or the technology that will solve world peace.

Chatbots or conversational user interfaces are not new.

They have been around but there is renewed interest. And this new buzz can be attributed to three broad reasons:

  • The rise of messaging for social interaction, commerce, collaboration, and more — it’s a user interface that most of the world is already trained on.
  • Tooling and technology advances in natural language processing and related technologies — frameworks from companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and many others provide the plumbing and infrastructure to create a Chatbot which can be talked to using natural languages.
  • Advances in AI and machine learning — capabilities in providing deep conversational experiences behind a Chatbot (instead of shallow conversation trees of yesteryear) provides the possibility of really compelling experiences.
Much like the adoption of apps in the last half-a-decade, businesses must think whether they need to have a “conversational app”.

Bot-directories on the Internet are already full of shallow and meaningless chatbots — early “hello world” attempts from developers trying out the new platforms. Large players are moving in rapidly.

What kind of chatbot is right for businesses?

I put this question to myself: what kind of Chatbot is right for Nagarro, a software services provider I work for? I decided to operate with two broad guidelines when answering this question:

  • What it should not be: adds no extra value or competitive advantage by being a chatbot — that is, the alternative GUI/app based approach works almost or just as well or better. Without this constraint, it is easy to think of “me-too” type use cases which look great but may not add business value.
  • What it should be: something that changes the quality of interaction for the end-user greatly by being conversational — either because of increased usability, or because the use case just doesn’t feel natural without a conversational interface.

For some businesses, a Chatbot may be necessary channel just to keep up with competition — retailers, eCommerce companies, product help-desks, etc.

I came up with multiple ideas, two of which I describe below. I believe that both of these can be implemented with currently available technology.

Chatbot 1:

Visitors to our website present us with opportunities to create conversations. Traditionally, we hope to entice them with content quality, design, and information architecture into hitting the “contact us” button and allow us to begin a conversation with them. An intelligent conversational UI, front-and-center of the website, flips this paradigm. The first interaction with the customer is a conversation. Imagine this:

This scenario is easy to implement today. Chatbots can process natural language queries, measure sentiment, remember the conversation and use historical context to construct future responses. The website can feed the conversation logic through aggressively tagging and structuring the content, or add some machine learning for content discoverability and identification. This interaction becomes richer if the visitor had used an authenticated channel such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, or others to interact — then we already start with information about the visitor.

Chatbot 2: Super recruiter bot

As a growing company, Nagarro has a continuous hiring process. For a given candidate, a recruiter has to do a number of things: analyze the resume of the candidate; ask questions for validating points on the resume; answer questions that the candidate may have about the company, the opportunity, the pay scales, the culture, work-life balance, etc.; describe job openings; and more. Typically, this is done through a phone call and form-based input. This is time-consuming, requires adding more people as we scale, requires training them and re-training them to communicate this information correctly and consistently.

Now imagine a scenario where candidates can simply interact with a Chatbot. The advantages:

  • scalability — we can handle many more candidates per unit time
  • consistency — we can control the quality of conversation with the candidates and make it consistent
  • usability — the candidates can do this over channels which are easier to interact with than the phone; they can pause and resume conversations
  • measurement — we can see what type of conversations result in better interest from candidates — difficult to measure in fluid person-to-person communication
  • knowledge — we can build-in more knowledge than a human can process; knowledge of all job openings and their requirements; knowledge of skill trees and ability to scan submitted resumes and ask relevant questions; etc.
  • richness of content — because of the medium involved (not over phone), the bot can share richer information with the candidate: a question about culture — play an inline video present on YouTube about the culture; a question about employee satisfaction — insert relevant reviews from Glassdoor

A bot like this can save recruiters time and they can focus on higher-level activities such as improving candidate experience when they are in the office. It can create better engagements with the candidates which starts us off on the right foot in our engagement with them.

So, does my business need a Chatbot?

While brainstorming on this question, I came up with a lot of Chatbot ideas. Some of them, I thought, were good like the ones above. Many were not. Some bad examples for us were having a Chatbot for mentoring or a Chatbot for searching enterprise data. The first one removes the real need for human interaction in a mentoring context. The second one doesn’t add any major benefit over existing enterprise search tools like Microsoft Delve .

The right questions to ask on whether our business needs a Chatbot are no different from any other tool, app, or investment that we make to improve our business:

Does making a Chatbot for a particular function offer me a competitive advantage in any way?
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