Ever since Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site made its Messenger mobile texting app available, businesses have begun experimenting with chatbots. In the near future, we should expect businesses to adopt chatbot platforms in the same way they are currently embracing mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms.
A chatbot is a software that impersonates a user, a service which allows people to interact through a chat interface using textual or audio means. Chatbots offer brands an opportunity to reach out to an audience and engage them in dialogues that might translate into immediate actions. Functions that depend on interaction and conversations, such as customer service or rapid information access, are good fits for chatbots across different industries.
For example, you could ask a bot on a travel site to book you a hotel based on your preference. It would compare prices, provide you with hotel options and then book the one you deemed fit as per your choice.
Bots possess an intelligence capability, similar to that used in live chat programs or virtual assistants. Driven by artificial intelligence, they are capable of handling complex conversations. These are built to respond to language and continuously learn during a conversation with a user, evolving and getting smarter. Once a business decides to build a bot, it simply needs to decide what kind of customer service it wishes to provide, on which platform the bot will be offered, and which service to use for building the chatbot.
Intelligent chatbots are a direct result of the convergence of many trends in technology and consumer behaviour. As they gain momentum, we analyse what triggered this evolutionary change in the business ecosystem:
· The explosive growth of mobile apps has come to a standstill. Smartphone users have reached a saturation point—on how many apps they want to install and use on a daily basis.
· Studies have shown that users spend most of their time only on a few apps. Social and messaging apps are the big winners.
· Customers are outsourcing their chores such as driving, shopping, food delivery, errands and are in need of more customer service.
· The recent past saw a rise in artificial intelligence, which has become a lot better in understanding what the user wants.
· A mature API (application programming interface) economy has enabled the access of useful services from computers to complete real-world tasks.
There are three main groups that are uniquely positioned to provide strong chatbot solutions:
Messaging platform vendors: Platforms such as Facebook and Skype that support the implementation of chatbots and messaging vendors are in a unique position to produce relevant chatbot platforms.
Voice platform vendors: Apple Siri and Google Now are some platforms seen as the main catalysts for the emergence of chatbots. Consequently, we should expect those companies to produce very sophisticated chatbot platforms that can become relevant in the business environment.
Chatbot platform start-ups: As with any other hot technology movement, we are already seeing plenty of start-ups trying to become the platform of choice for chatbot developers. These start-ups are actively pushing the boundaries of innovation in the chatbot space.
Chatbots are all geared to emerge as the next wave of IT and the disruption has already begun. The three main high-value areas where chatbots will make their mark are customer service, human resources and marketing.
Conversation-based interactions are a good thing—it is how human beings interact. However, chatbots still have a long way to go before they are capable of natural and fluid conversation. Nevertheless, it’s a big step towards making personalized interactions with machines part of our daily lives.
Holding the potential to create unlimited new possibilities, tech and business communities are eyeing this development as a once-in-a-decade paradigm shift. For any business leader, bots should feature on their longer-term planning agenda; their absence could result in them getting disrupted by more agile competitors operating in a complementary fashion with bots that will be engaging in research and making purchases on behalf of their users.
Aniketh Jain is co-founder and CEO of cloud communications company Solutions Infini Technologies India Pvt. Ltd.