ALICE – which stands for Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity, an acronym that could have been lifted straight out of an episode of The X-Files – was developed and launched by creator Dr. Richard Wallace way back in the dark days of the early Internet in 1995. (As you can see in the image above, the website’s aesthetic remains virtually unchanged since that time, a powerful reminder of how far web design has come.)
Two trends — the exploding popularity of mobile messaging apps and advances in artificial intelligence — are coinciding to enable a new generation of tools that enable brands to communicate with customers in powerful new ways at reduced cost. Retailers and technology firms are experimenting with chatbots, powered by a combination of machine learning, natural language processing, and live operators, to provide customer service, sales support, and other commerce-related functions.
As with many 'organic' channels, the relative reach of your audience tends to decline over time due to a variety of factors. In email's case, it can be the over-exposure to marketing emails and moves from email providers to filter out promotional content; with other channels it can be the platform itself. Back in 2014 I wrote about how "Facebook's Likes Don't Matter Anymore" in relation to the declining organic reach of Facebook pages. Last year alone the organic reach of publishers on Facebook fell by a further 52%.
Poor user experience. The bottom line: chatbots frustrate your customers if you are viewing them as a replacement for humans. Do not ever, ever try to pass of a chatbot as a human. If your chatbot suffers from any of the issues above, you’re probably creating a poor customer experience overall and an angry phone call to a poor unsuspecting call center rep.
In other words, bots solve the thing we loathed about apps in the first place. You don't have to download something you'll never use again. It's been said most people stick to five apps. Those holy grail spots? They're increasingly being claimed by messaging apps. Today, messaging apps have over 5 billion monthly active users, and for the first time, people are using them more than social networks.
Three main reasons are often cited for this reluctance: the first is the human side—they think users will be reluctant to engage with a bot. The other two have more to do with bots’ expected performance: there is skepticism that bots will be able to appropriately incorporate history and context to create personalized experiences and believe they won’t be able to adequately understand human input.
A chatbot that functions through machine learning has an artificial neural network inspired by the neural nodes of the human brain. The bot is programmed to self-learn as it is introduced to new dialogues and words. In effect, as a chatbot receives new voice or textual dialogues, the number of inquiries that it can reply and the accuracy of each response it gives increases. Facebook has a machine learning chatbot that creates a platform for companies to interact with their consumers through the Facebook Messenger application. Using the Messenger bot, users can buy shoes from Spring, order a ride from Uber, and have election conversations with the New York Times which used the Messenger bot to cover the 2016 presidential election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. If a user asked the New York Times through his/her app a question like “What’s new today?” or “What do the polls say?” the bot would reply to the request.
This importance is reinforced by Jacqueline Payne, Customer Support Manager at Paperclip Digital, who says ‘Customer service isn’t a buzzword. But too many businesses treat it like it is. As a viable avenue from which to lower customer acquisition costs and cultivate a loyal customer base, chat bots can play a pivotal role in driving business growth.’
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Operator calls itself a “request network” aiming to “unlock the 90% of commerce that’s not on the internet.” The Operator app, developed by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp, connects you with a network of “operators” who act like concierges who can execute any shopping-related request. You can order concert tickets, get gift ideas, or even get interior design recommendations for new furniture. Operator seems to be positioning itself towards “high consideration” purchases, bigger ticket purchases requiring more research and expertise, where its operators can add significant value to a transaction.
If the success of WeChat in China is any sign, these utility bots are the future. Without ever leaving the messaging app, users can hail a taxi, video chat a friend, order food at a restaurant, and book their next vacation. In fact, WeChat has become so ingrained in society that a business would be considered obsolete without an integration. People who divide their time between China and the West complain that leaving this world behind is akin to stepping back in time.
We need to know the specific intents in the request (we will call them as entities), for eg — the answers to the questions like when?, where?, how many? etc., that correspond to extracting the information from the user request about datetime, location, number respectively. Here datetime, location, number are the entities. Quoting the above weather example, the entities can be ‘datetime’ (user provided information) and location(note — location need not be an explicit input provided by the user and will be determined from the user location as default, if nothing is specified).
“Today, chat isn’t yet being perceived as an engagement driver, but more of a customer service operation[…]” Horwitz writes for Chatbots Magazine. “Brands and marketers can start collecting data around the engagement and interaction of end users. Those that are successful could see higher brand recognition, turning user-level mobile moments into huge returns.”
According to the Journal of Medical Internet Research, "Chatbots are [...] increasingly used in particular for mental health applications, prevention and behavior change applications (such as smoking cessation or physical activity interventions).". They have been shown to serve as a cost-effective and accessible therapeutic agents for indications such as depression and anxiety. A conversational agent called Woebot has been shown to significantly reduce depression in young adults.