It’s a Bot’s World After All?

June 22, 2016

Bot's World No, not these kinds of bots

There was a time, not so long ago, when a person or business was a call or an email away.

Then along came instant messaging, SMS texting, smartphones, messaging apps and unlimited internet. Response-time expectations changed, bars were set high and hearing someone’s actual voice became rare.

Take customer service, for example.

Calling a customer service number almost always means that at least 20 minutes of your time (if you’re lucky) will be spent listening to elevator music, being transferred over to a different department that will definitely be able to resolve your issue, having your call dropped and your patience put through the ringer. Chat features were meant to eliminate all of that, allowing you to open a tab, hit up a customer service pro and go about working (or reading BuzzFeed, whatever) while your issue gets resolved.

But alas, humans aren’t perfect and we expect a lot from them.

Cue Facebook, Microsoft, Kik and a slew of other players in the tech game to save the day. Their solution? Bots. Specifically, chatbots powered by artificial intelligence and big data that integrate into messenger platforms that consumers are already using.  

We know what you’re thinking. Chatbots are nothing new (RIP, SmarterChild). But ever since Mark Zuckerberg announced the integration of bots with Messenger, the buzz has picked up exponentially, even though companies have been investing in this newest iteration of bot technology for well over a year now.

Microsoft, for example, recently acquired Wand, a chatbot-based AI startup that promises to “create seamless customer experiences by harnessing human language.” It’s also incubating a platform called Yellow Messenger, which claims to be one of the first companies to provide a fully automated bot service that exclusively serves the e-commerce industry. Google is working on a personal assistant–type service that combines voice control and AI to deliver services via chatbots. And we’ve all met Amazon’s Alexa. So where is all this going?     

Bots and E-Commerce

The potential of these bots is immense. Think advertising, the breaking down of app walls and a change in customer service as we know it. They’re the catalyst for what many are calling the “year of conversational commerce” — the latest paradigm shift in the world of retail. Right when we were wrapping our heads (and budgets) around m-commerce.

Coined by the inventor of the #hashtag himself, Chris Messina, conversational commerce is the intersection of shopping and instant messaging apps. Which is a somewhat simple explanation for a trend that’s quite possibly about to revolutionize how we as consumers interact with brands. Done right, bots will eliminate a large amount of friction that consumers face when trying to gather information and make purchases, shortening the distance between a potential customer and a completed purchase.

Companies like Sephora, H&M and 1-800-Flowers.com are early adopters of the bot technology, and while the bots are far from perfect, the rate at which they’re being improved is impressive. The humanization of the technology is one of its most important success factors, since the intention is to capitalize on a way of communication that already feels natural to us (texting), as opposed to creating a new experience. In a not-so-distant future, expect to be able to talk to a bot in the same way that you’d chat with a good friend (but this good friend always responds and always does what you ask it to do).

While a messaging platform that allows you to bank, order cabs, pay a friend and converse with a brand seem a little out there, China’s already been doing it for years (surprise, surprise). WeChat has been the gold standard for chat technology in China for a while, and its success in integrating itself into the day-to-day lives of the Chinese population shows just how vital conversational commerce is for our hyperconnected world.

As we mentioned before, bots are still based on a technology that has a long way to go. But their advance is coming and coming fast. This year, VentureBeat’s MobileBeat conference theme is AI and bot technology. And programs specific to bot development — such as Botcamp — are popping up in tech hubs around the country.

We’ll be keeping our eyes on bots as they infiltrate e-commerce. Make sure to subscribe to our blog to stay in the know!

 

Blog post by Anna Torres, social media and blog specialist,ChannelAdvisor