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.
Foreseeing immense potential, businesses are starting to invest heavily in the burgeoning bot economy. A number of brands and publishers have already deployed bots on messaging and collaboration channels, including HP, 1-800-Flowers, and CNN. While the bot revolution is still in the early phase, many believe 2016 will be the year these conversational interactions take off.
Facebook has jumped fully on the conversational commerce bandwagon and is betting big that it can turn its popular Messenger app into a business messaging powerhouse. The company first integrated peer-to-peer payments into Messenger in 2015, and then launched a full chatbot API so businesses can create interactions for customers to occur within the Facebook Messenger app. You can order flowers from 1–800-Flowers, browse the latest fashion and make purchases from Spring, and order an Uber, all from within a Messenger chat.
As people research, they want the information they need as quickly as possible and are increasingly turning to voice search as the technology advances. Email inboxes have become more and more cluttered, so buyers have moved to social media to follow the brands they really care about. Ultimately, they now have the control — the ability to opt out, block, and unfollow any brand that betrays their trust.
At a high level, a conversational bot can be divided into the bot functionality (the "brain") and a set of surrounding requirements (the "body"). The brain includes the domain-aware components, including the bot logic and ML capabilities. Other components are domain agnostic and address non-functional requirements such as CI/CD, quality assurance, and security.
Having a conversation with a computer might have seemed like science fiction even a few years ago. But now, most of us already use chatbots for a variety of tasks. For example, as end users, we ask the virtual assistant on our smartphones to find a local restaurant and provide directions. Or, we use an online banking chatbot for help with a loan application.
Have you checked out Facebook Messenger’s official page lately? Well, now you can start building your own bot directly through the platform’s landing page. This method though, may be a little bit more complicated than some of the previous ways we’ve discussed, but there are a lot of resources that Facebook Messenger provides in order to help you accomplish your brand new creation. Through full-fledged guides, case studies, a forum for Facebook developers, and more, you are sure to be a chatbot creating professional in no time.
“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.”
Conversational bots work in a similar way as an employee manning a customer care desk. When a customer asks for assistance, the conversational bot is the medium responding. If a customer asks the question, “What time does your store close on Friday?” the conversational bot would respond the same as a human would, based on the information available. “Our store closes at 5pm on Friday.”
Jabberwacky learns new responses and context based on real-time user interactions, rather than being driven from a static database. Some more recent chatbots also combine real-time learning with evolutionary algorithms that optimise their ability to communicate based on each conversation held. Still, there is currently no general purpose conversational artificial intelligence, and some software developers focus on the practical aspect, information retrieval.