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.”
Through Amazon’s developer platform for the Echo (called Alexa Skills), developers can develop “skills” for Alexa which enable her to carry out new types of tasks. Examples of skills include playing music from your Spotify library, adding events to your Google Calendar, or querying your credit card balance with Capital One — you can even ask Alexa to “open Dominoes and place my Easy Order” and have pizza delivered without even picking up your smartphone. Now that’s conversational commerce in action.
From any point in the conversation, the bot needs to know where to go next. If a user writes, “I’m looking for new pants,” the bot might ask, “For a man or woman?” The user may type, “For a woman.” Does the bot then ask about size, style, brand, or color? What if one of those modifiers was already specified in the query? The possibilities are endless, and every one of them has to be mapped with rules.
Telegram launched its bot API in 2015, and launched version 2.0 of its platform in April 2016, adding support for bots to send rich media and access geolocation services. As with Kik, Telegram’s bots feel spartan and lack compelling features at this point, but that could change over time. Telegram has also yet to add payment features, so there are not yet any shopping-related bots on the platform.
Interface designers have come to appreciate that humans' readiness to interpret computer output as genuinely conversational—even when it is actually based on rather simple pattern-matching—can be exploited for useful purposes. Most people prefer to engage with programs that are human-like, and this gives chatbot-style techniques a potentially useful role in interactive systems that need to elicit information from users, as long as that information is relatively straightforward and falls into predictable categories. Thus, for example, online help systems can usefully employ chatbot techniques to identify the area of help that users require, potentially providing a "friendlier" interface than a more formal search or menu system. This sort of usage holds the prospect of moving chatbot technology from Weizenbaum's "shelf ... reserved for curios" to that marked "genuinely useful computational methods".