Fear Not the Service Bot
What are Chatbots and How do they Work?
Bots are the topic of today and for good reason. For some, Facebook’s announcement marked the first time bots had entered the customer service discussion. For others, bots have been a technology that always bore potential, but never the distribution to really be a mainstream channel. That is until Facebook decided to open their Messenger platform to Bot developers.
Chatbots, as they are also known, are digital users powered by software that we can interact with similarly to how we would with a live user. In the case of instant messaging platforms, bots usually represent a product or service inside the messaging interface, which enable users to have an automated conversation with a given entity via chat. This is the most basic form of chatbots in how they relate to Facebook Messenger and other platforms like it. Though chatbots themselves are not something new, advances in technology have made them far more effective than ever before. Natural Language Processing (NLP), as an example, recognizes conversational language and enables conversations to flow more naturally. The ease of use and comfort consumers will have when interacting with these bots will have a significant impact on their adoptability as a viable service channel.
How Facebook will Change the Botscape
Customer service bots represent an incredible opportunity to engage customers on a whole new frontier. The buzz and excitement that surrounds them exists well beyond the world of tech, and it is completely warranted. They represent customer engagement opportunities that were applicable mostly in theory, but now represent a very possible reality. Namely, because of the scale and reach that Facebook offers. Facebook has the type of ground shaking influence to cause even the largest organizations to rethink engagement strategies, change budget priorities, and even create new budgets altogether. That is the level of influence Facebook has and how easily it can throw its weight across industries. It’s exactly what the botsphere needed to truly get off the ground.
There are some who think of Facebook Messenger as a separate entity, and though it is a standalone application, it represents significant real estate on the Facebook landscape. In fact, as it currently stands, you must have a Facebook profile to use messenger. So, while Messenger has around 900 Million users, the main Facebook website reported over 1.65 billion at the end of Q1 2016. That number is only growing and would see a significant jump if China were ever to open its borders to the social network.
Should I Bot or Should I Not?
It’s very fair to question if all the attention is worthwhile. Will this new medium really live up to the potential its enthusiasts envision for it and should we invest time, effort, and money into developing these bots for our own businesses?
If we take a step back and imagine the real life Messaging Bots that can be created with the current technology, we can already see where the service can be applied in a number of industries. If you’re a customer experience manager for a pizza enterprise, imagine your customers having the option to order pizza through Messenger: They send a message, receive a menu, respond with their order, and if their address is already on file, receive their pizza within the hour. That’s an example of customer service, but there are also marketing applications. For example, what if you’re a retailer and you want to advertise a flash sale to your customers? Messaging bots open a far more personal and direct way to reach your customer base. These highlight just some of the possibilities companies have for engaging their customers using these bots and as we see more real life examples appear in the near future, it will help to unfold the larger picture of where this technology can take us.
Will We See Service Bots in our Customer Service Futures?
Service Bots are essentially a new channel or touchpoint for customer service and the success of this touchpoint will likely depend on how well the technology is utilized by the majority of businesses that deploy them. Though Service Bots present a fantastic opportunity for companies trying to connect with their customers, there will certainly be many examples that greatly disappoint their users. In small samples, there have already been some cases of this. While it may not be fair to judge the results so early on, it will be interesting to see if the good examples of messenger bots will be enough to keep people using them – at least until the standard rises to an acceptable level.
Chatbots have had popular use in some form or another for at least a decade. Apple’s Siri is a bot and both Google and Microsoft have jumped on board with similar products. Therefore, it would appear safe to assume that there is some investment in the future of this technology. Both Gartner Inc. and Forrester Research have discussed in length, over the last few years, the advantages of Virtual Customer Assistants and have predicted their proliferation in digital spaces. Consumers seem to have embraced the technology enough to warrant further development in the field.
Given the history of bot development and the surrounding technologies that can be applied, this does not feel like another marketing technology that shoots high and fizzles out. It feels like the world is ready for Service Bots and thanks to Facebook, that’s likely to happen sooner than most of us expected.