Chatbots: What’s the real impact behind the hype?

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Hello, I’m a chatbot!

A chatbot or conversational bot is an intelligent agent that helps people create value for little effort. In the case of conversational bots, it’s communicated through a messaging interface. These new software robots can help people, for instance, send money to someone, order some food, or just check the weather – all using simple SMS interactions.

You’ve probably seen new bots such as Poncho for the weather or KLM to get your flights notifications popping up in your messaging apps? They are only the first wave. Thanks to an ongoing app fatigue, a messaging platform boom and an increased funding in Artificial Intelligence, you should expect many more bots that will replace some of your native apps and services.

As a leader in your organization, how will this new Silicon Valley trend impact your customers and your business? Why should you care about conversational bots?

A shift in interaction for a better UX

The major advantage of bots is that they strongly decrease friction between your service and the customer. Today, if I want to order an Uber, I have to download an app on my phone and sign up, enter my credit card info if not already saved, request a driver, select a type of service and finally enter my destination. What I really want is to just say that “I want to go to the office for the cheapest price”. That’s what bots are promising and will be delivering: no download, no install, no setup, always on, persistent UI, easy to access/interact with … and much more convenient! Anyone that knows how to write a text message can now use your app because it feels natural and familiar.

“So what happens when a messaging app essentially becomes an operating system for our lives?” A16Z Podcast

Another thing that bots offer is persistence. Bots are cross-platform and available wherever you like to send/receive messages (Facebook, Slack, WeChat, WhatsApp,…). The potential is that messaging apps could become the OS/platforms and the bots become the apps. That makes bots easy to share or use with your friends as long as you are on the same platform ( i.e. “invite @uberBot” to the conversation on Facebook Messenger, “request a ride” for friends in the conversation, split the cost and bill individually). It also highlights a need for the bots to remember what you said before and just continue the flow of the conversation, which has been a major pain point when calling your favorite customer care hotline.

What about the UI? Just forget about a neat color theme or fancy swiping. Advances in technology and especially Artificial Intelligence will make traditional UI less relevant. The conversation becomes the primary interface with the user at the center.

In fact, personalization is a key element to a great user experience. Don’t you like the feeling when you go back to your favourite restaurant and the waiter welcomes you by your name and serves you your favourite cocktail? Bots will know who you are and how you interacted with them in the past. They may change their tone of voice or how they communicate with you to recreate a human-like interaction. With artificial intelligence and predictive modeling they will be able to remember past interactions and anticipate what you will want next .


Impact on product management

Conversational bots may also have a strong impact on your organization. They might even induce a shift in the use of your product resources.

First, the cost of development for bots is lower than for native apps. The brain of the bot is where most of the effort lies. The brain will sit on a server which means no interface needs to be presented to the user and the bot will directly be able to talk to different messaging platforms. This also means that your application will be subject to less app store restrictions leading to a faster release to market.

In a nutshell, your developers will now be focusing on the brain and back-end while your designers will have to spend more time on developing conversations, patterns, and reactions to make your bot feel more human. While developers will rely heavily on existing frameworks, this might imply that you now need to hire writers and actors instead of pixel pushers and photoshop wizards.

Maintaining and operating your bot will also involve less human resources. We are not going to dive into the new set of standards brought by deep learning, AI or NLP, but what you should understand is that, again, technology will create abundance for little effort. Please remember that bots just need to be better than your customer reps to replace them (think about ATMs vs bank tellers). They will leverage context and history… and the longer the conversation, the easier it will be to anticipate your user’s needs thanks to a richer data model. This will also reflect a higher engagement and conversion. The choice to create your own bot might be easier than you think.

“Instead of going through all the pain of persuading someone to install your app, what if you could have an immediate, fluid and easy way to engage through a conversational interface?” Benedict Evans

Last, bots are easy to distribute. Word of mouth and social messaging is a great opportunity for your bot to grow its contact list. Notifications become messages that matter, and installs become invites that users can accept or deny easily.

You should care about conversational bots because the opportunity cost to create a bot is very low: they are cheap to develop, maintain and distribute while they significantly improve the user experience by delivering convenience, persistence and personalization.

Whether you are a startup or a fortune 500 company, go back to your white board and try to apply this shift to your very own customer journey. What will be the impact? For your users? For your business?


Further readings

A curated list of existing conversational bots on Product Hunt

A short piece on the creation of conversation using the right words on FAST.CO

A long piece on why bots might eat the web on The Verge

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Antonin Lapiche Written by:

Antonin Lapiche is the rapid prototyping guy of the Product Design team. His passion for new technology makes him a self learner in order to experiment anything new out there. His focus is on using a set of new technologies to solve customer pain points. His philosophy: K.I.S.S and “a prototype is worth a thousand meetings”. Antonin is the founder of and proud father of Captain Feedback. He holds a Master in CS from EFREI Engineering School and a Master in Management from Audencia Nantes School of Management. You can engage with him (or just send him funny GIFs) on twitter @airlikidh2.