In business-to-business environments, chatbots are commonly scripted and used to respond to frequently asked questions or perform simple, repetitive calls to action. In sales, for example, a chatbot may be a quick way for sales reps to get phone numbers. Chatbots can also be used in service departments, assisting service agents in answering repetitive requests. For example, a service rep might provide the chatbot with an order number and ask when the order was shipped. Generally, once a conversation gets too complex for a chatbot, the call or text window will be transferred to a human service agent.
Modern chatbots are frequently used in situations in which simple interactions with only a limited range of responses are needed. This can include customer service and marketing applications, where the chatbots can provide answers to questions on topics such as products, services or company policies. If a customer's questions exceed the abilities of the chatbot, that customer is usually escalated to a human operator.
On the other hand, early adoption can be somewhat of a curse. In 2011, many companies and individuals, myself included, invested a lot of time and money into Google+, dubbed to be bigger than Facebook at the time. They acquired over 10 million new users within the first two weeks of launch and things were looking positive. Many companies doubled-down on growing a community within the platform, hopeful of using it as a new and growing acquisition channel, but things didn't exactly pan out that way.
A chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation through voice commands or text chats or both. Chatbot, short for chatterbot, is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) feature that can be embedded and used through any major messaging applications. There are a number of synonyms for chatbot, including "talkbot," "bot," "IM bot," "interactive agent" or "artificial conversation entity."
Pop-culture references to Skynet and a forthcoming “war against the machines” are perhaps a little too common in articles about AI (including this one and Larry’s post about Google’s RankBrain tech), but they do raise somewhat uncomfortable questions about the unexpected side of developing increasingly sophisticated AI constructs – including seemingly harmless chatbots.
Previous generations of chatbots were present on company websites, e.g. Ask Jenn from Alaska Airlines which debuted in 2008 or Expedia's virtual customer service agent which launched in 2011. The newer generation of chatbots includes IBM Watson-powered "Rocky", introduced in February 2017 by the New York City-based e-commerce company Rare Carat to provide information to prospective diamond buyers.
Conversational bots “live” online and give customers a familiar experience, similar to engaging an employee or a live agent, and they can offer that experience in higher volumes. Conversational bots offer scaling—or the capability to perform equally well under an expanding workload—in ways that human can’t, assisting businesses to reach customers in a way they couldn’t before. For one, businesses have created 24/7/365 online presence through conversational bots.
Chatbots are often used online and in messaging apps, but are also now included in many operating systems as intelligent virtual assistants, such as Siri for Apple products and Cortana for Windows. Dedicated chatbot appliances are also becoming increasingly common, such as Amazon's Alexa. These chatbots can perform a wide variety of functions based on user commands.
More and more companies embrace chatbots to increase engagement with their audiences in the last few years. Especially for some industries including banking, insurance, and retail chatbots started to function as efficient interactive tools to increase customer satisfaction and cost-effectiveness. A study by Humley found out 43% of digital banking users are turning to chatbots – the increasing trend shows that banking customers consider the chatbot as an alternative channel to get instant information and solve their issues.
It didn’t take long, however, for Turing’s headaches to begin. The BabyQ bot drew the ire of Chinese officials by speaking ill of the Communist Party. In the exchange seen in the screenshot above, one user commented, “Long Live the Communist Party!” In response, BabyQ asked the user, “Do you think that such a corrupt and incompetent political regime can live forever?”
As AOL's David Shingy writes in Adweek, "The challenge [with chatbots] will be thinking about creative from a whole different view: Can we have creative that scales? That customizes itself? We find ourselves hurtling toward another handoff from man to machine -- what larger system of creative or complex storytelling structure can I design such that a machine can use it appropriately and effectively?"
Tay was built to learn the way millennials converse on Twitter, with the aim of being able to hold a conversation on the platform. In Microsoft’s words: “Tay has been built by mining relevant public data and by using AI and editorial developed by a staff including improvisational comedians. Public data that’s been anonymised is Tay’s primary data source. That data has been modelled, cleaned and filtered by the team developing Tay.”
Chatbots have come a long way since then. They are built on AI technologies, including deep learning, natural language processing and machine learning algorithms, and require massive amounts of data. The more an end user interacts with the bot, the better voice recognition becomes at predicting what the appropriate response is when communicating with an end user.
It's fair to say that I'm pretty obsessed with chatbots right now. There are some great applications popping up from brands that genuinely add value to the end consumer, and early signs are showing that consumers are actually responding really well to them. For those of you who aren't quite sure what I'm talking about, here's a quick overview of what a chatbot is:
Message generator component consists of several user defined templates (templates are nothing but sentences with some placeholders, as appropriate) that map to the action names. So depending on the action predicted by the dialogue manager, the respective template message is invoked. If the template requires some placeholder values to be filled up, those values are also passed by the dialogue manager to the generator. Then the appropriate message is displayed to the user and the bot goes into a wait mode listening for the user input.
It may be tempting to assume that users will perform procedural tasks one by one in a neat and orderly way. For example, in a procedural conversation flow using dialogs, the user will start at root dialog, invoke the new order dialog from there, and then invoke the product search dialog. Then the user will select a product and confirm, exiting the product search dialog, complete the order, exiting the new order dialog, and arrive back at the root dialog.
There are obvious revenue opportunities around subscriptions, advertising and commerce. If bots are designed to save you time that you’d normally spend on mundane tasks or interactions, it’s possible they’ll seem valuable enough to justify a subscription fee. If bots start to replace some of the functions that you’d normally use a search engine like Google for, it’s easy to imagine some sort of advertising component. Or if bots help you shop, the bot-maker could arrange for a commission.
You can structure these modules to flow in any way you like, ranging from free form to sequential. The Bot Framework SDK provides several libraries that allows you to construct any conversational flow your bot needs. For example, the prompts library allows you to ask users for input, the waterfall library allows you to define a sequence of question/answer pair, the dialog control library allows you to modularized your conversational flow logic, etc. All of these libraries are tied together through a dialogs object. Let's take a closer look at how modules are implemented as dialogs to design and manage conversation flows and see how that flow is similar to the traditional application flow.
How: instead of asking someone to fill out a form on your website to be contacted by your sales team, you direct them straight into Messenger, where you can ask them some of their contact details and any qualification questions (for example, "How many employees does your company have?"). Depending on what they respond with you could ask if they'd like to arrange a meeting with a salesperson right there and then.
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.
“Major shifts on large platforms should be seen as an opportunities for distribution. That said, we need to be careful not to judge the very early prototypes too harshly as the platforms are far from complete. I believe Facebook’s recent launch is the beginning of a new application platform for micro application experiences. The fundamental idea is that customers will interact with just enough UI, whether conversational and/or widgets, to be delighted by a service/brand with immediate access to a rich profile and without the complexities of installing a native app, all fueled by mature advertising products. It’s potentially a massive opportunity.” — Aaron Batalion, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners
Regardless of which type of classifier is used, the end-result is a response. Like a music box, there can be additional “movements” associated with the machinery. A response can make use of external information (like weather, a sports score, a web lookup, etc.) but this isn’t specific to chatbots, it’s just additional code. A response may reference specific “parts of speech” in the sentence, for example: a proper noun. Also the response (for an intent) can use conditional logic to provide different responses depending on the “state” of the conversation, this can be a random selection (to insert some ‘natural’ feeling).
These days, checking the headlines over morning coffee is as much about figuring out if we should be hunkering down in the basement preparing for imminent nuclear annihilation as it is about keeping up with the day’s headlines. Unfortunately, even the most diligent newshounds may find it difficult to distinguish the signal from the noise, which is why NBC launched its NBC Politics Bot on Facebook Messenger shortly before the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
Chatbots are unique because they not only engage with your customers, they also retain them. This means that unlike other forms of marketing, chatbots keep your customers entertained for longer. For example, let's say you catch your audience's attention with a video. While this video may be extremely engaging, once it ends, it doesn't have much more to offer.
The evolution of artificial intelligence is now in full swing and chatbots are only a faint splash on a huge wave of progress. Today the number of users of messaging apps like WhatsApp, Slack, Skype and their analogs is skyrocketing, Facebook Messenger alone has more than 1.2 billion monthly users. With the spread of messengers, virtual chatterbots that imitate human conversations for solving various tasks are becoming increasingly in demand. Chinese WeChat bots can already set medical appointments, call a taxi, send money to friends, check in for a flight and many many other.
“The chat space is sort of the last unpolluted space [on your phone],” said Sam Mandel, who works at the startup studio Betaworks and is also building a weather bot for Slack called Poncho. “It’s like the National Park of people’s online experience. Right now, the way people use chat services, it’s really a good private space that you control.” (That, of course, could quickly go sour if early implementations are too spammy or useless.)
Chatbots are used in a variety of sectors and built for different purposes. There are retail bots designed to pick and order groceries, weather bots that give you weather forecast of the day or week, and simply friendly bots that just talk to people in need of a friend. The fintech sector also uses chatbots to make consumers’ inquiries and application for financial services easier. A small business lender in Montreal, Thinking Capital, uses a virtual assistant to provide customers with 24/7 assistance through the Facebook Messenger. A small business hoping to get a loan from the company need only answer key qualification questions asked by the bot in order to be deemed eligible to receive up to $300,000 in financing.