Analysis: With Facebook counting over 11,000 chatbots on its platform, why is the bot the new technology darling?
Move aside trusted app, the tech industry has a new technological darling – one which courts the public eye with attention-grabbing headlines about robot uprisings, revolution and the death of the human workforce. Despite its small lexical size, this new darling has already taken on the grunt work of automation and now stands to revolutionise customer engagement, positioning itself as the likely backbone of the much anticipated ‘Machine Age’.
Dispensing with any more dramatic introductions, I give you the bot. A bot is a software program that runs automated tasks over the internet. Underpinned by AI and machine learning, bots are used to do mundane, repetitive tasks – the grunt work.
Bots are capable of performing tasks at exceptional speed, with accuracy not compromised by said repetition or speed – something which would be a different story if it were replicated with humans, a race renowned for that little thing called ‘human error’. Richard Warley, Managing Director of CenturyLink EMEA, told CBR:
“There is a growing recognition that we have entered a new and disruptive age – ‘The Second Machine Age’ or ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Given the rapid development in AI there is little doubt that most of our knowledge work can and almost certainly will eventually be replaced by cognitive systems that will be able to the work in a fraction of the time and cost and to a significantly higher standard than we can.
"If not today, then at some point in the not too distant future."
This new and disruptive age which Warley refers has given rise to an interesting bot business model, one which relies on cognitive systems – the chatbot. Feeding off the popularity of messaging – WhatsApp boasts one billion active users per month, while Facebook messenger has 900 million users – chatbots are being seen as the next big trend in customer engagement.
Constantly maturing thanks to the AI that underpins the technology, chatbots are now being used to engage with the customer, replicating simple human dialogue and using machine learning to interact with the customer in a simple, cost-effective way. It is here where the benefit of chat bots is seen, as Mark Armstrong, VP and MD EMEA at Progress, told CBR:
“Integrated into an already viable platform with many users, a bot can do things that a normal human chat session or voice command wouldn’t be able to accomplish easily because they are built on top of services with large user bases. As such third-party companies are understandably starting to leverage bots to perform specialised tasks, such as check bank account balances or order plane tickets via text prompts. This increased automation and administration of business rules increases the efficiency of business processes, reducing dependency on IT and improving the overall agility of their operations.”
Businesses seem to already be chomping at the bit to embrace chatbots. Dr. Hannu Verkasalo, CEO & Founder at Verto Analytics, told CBR that Facebook counts over 11,000 chatbots on its platform, as of June 2016. Further Verto data shows that Facebook Messenger, as of May 2016, claims the highest reach of all messaging apps in the U.S., attracting over 79.3 million adult (18+) users with a 44 percent reach across mobile devices. As Verkasalo said, those numbers are ‘an incredible, approachable audience for a chatbot developer.”
Not only are chatbots good for business, but research would suggest that customers are more than receptive to this automated approach. According to a study by the UK’s DMA, 79% of 16-24 year olds, 76% of 25-34 year olds and 62% of 35-44 year olds expressed an interest in automated approaches to customer engagement, such as virtual assistants. With both business and consumer receptive to chatbots, further research would suggest that chatbots are actually a necessary technology for today’s online consumer. According to Forrester Research, 53% of online adults are likely to abandon their purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their question.
However, although there seems to be a myriad of benefits when it comes to bots and specifically chatbots, criticism remains. The elephant in the room when it comes to chatbots is the ‘robot uprising’ rhetoric peddled by those against ‘botification’. However, many of these Terminator-esque visions of the future are disputed by those in the industry, as Paul Appleby, EVP of digital transformation at BMC Software, told CBR:
“Implemented strategically automation has no need to steal our jobs or spell the end of manual labour as we know it. In fact, when set in place correctly it will be barely visible and can deliver significant business value, reduce security and compliance risks and free up staff time to focus on more valuable tasks and new ways of working.”
Richard Warley echoes this sentiment, believing that for the future workplace to flourish, a balance needs to be struck between man and machine.
“The current pace of change will therefore be further accelerated by the rise of this new machine workforce. In order to make sense of this in the corporate world, the rules of the road for corporate Strategy will have to change radically.” Warley told CBR.
“Strategy 2.0, will need to focus on creating not only an adaptive enterprise that has agility to respond to the threat of ‘uberisation’ but it also has to provide the environment for humans and machines to work together – drawing on the strengths of both.”
Although the rise of the machines is one myth readily dispelled in regard to bots, other issues with the AI technology are appearing to go unnoticed as everyone jumps on the chatbot bandwagon. Just like any adoption of new technology, businesses must assess if it is right for them, as Dave Campbell, Vice President of Customer Engagement & Support at LogMeIn, told CBR:
“Before jumping on the bot bandwagon, it’s important to remember that not all customer interactions are created equally. Not all customers are chatbot friendy – there will always be customers that are more comfortable interacting via traditional methods. Not all interfaces are chatbot friendly either — Bots might be the darlings of customer engagement at the moment but apps still have a role to play.
“If an app performs a process better, there is no need to cram user interfaces in the name of ‘botification’. Finally, not all issues are chatbots friendly. Bots are powered by artificial intelligence and are good at following narrow and tightly defined instructions. For more complex issues, other forms of engagement will likely yield faster and better results for customers.”
Many might say that the chatbot hype has simmered recently, but as Dr. Hannu Verkasalo told CBR, if you get chatbots right, the opportunities for you business and customer increase tenfold.
“The key to these bots, is of course replicating that genuine feel of connection between the user and the bot. It has to embody the personality of the brand and its public face of values. The continued development of a robust and successful chatbot ecosystem could have a profound effect on the acquisition market, as Internet and media giants seek to integrate “default chatbots” into their existing apps and platforms. As we live in an ‘always-on’ and customer service driven age, where competitors are just a click away, bots can help better meet the expectations of the demanding customer.”
The chatbot is also part of a larger, AI ecosystem which is constantly evolving and becoming more and more intertwined with our everyday life. As previously mentioned, AI could prove to be the new electricity, with the chatbot just one of the first major milestones for the technology.
AI is maturing rapidly, with chatbots one of the first major examples of how, as Dr Dadong Wan, Accenture Labs Fellow, told CBR, “we begin to understand the immense potential of “smart” machines to drive greater efficiency and competitiveness.” Although Dr Wan concedes that chatbot technology “still has some way to go in terms of learning about the consumer and remembering the context of interaction,” it is a major waypoint in our journey with AI.
Today the darling of technology is the bot, but who knows what it might be in 50 years time.