Do the nature of our services and size of our customer base warrant an investment in a more efficient and automated customer service response? How can we offer a more streamlined experience without (necessarily) increasing costly human resources? Amtrak’s website receives over 375,000 daily visitors, and they wanted a solution that provided users with instant access to online self-service.
Many expect Facebook to roll out a bot store of some kind at its annual F8 conference for software developers this week, which means these bots may soon operate inside Messenger, its messaging app. It has already started testing a virtual assistant bot called “M,” but the product is only available for a few people and still primarily powered by humans.
All of these conversational technologies employ natural-language-recognition capabilities to discern what the user is saying, and other sophisticated intelligence tools to determine what he or she truly needs to know. These technologies are beginning to use machine learning to learn from interactions and improve the resulting recommendations and responses.
Why are chatbots important? A chatbot is often described as one of the most advanced and promising expressions of interaction between humans and machines. However, from a technological point of view, a chatbot only represents the natural evolution of a Question Answering system leveraging Natural Language Processing (NLP). Formulating responses to questions in natural language is one of the most typical Examples of Natural Language Processing applied in various enterprises’ end-use applications.
With natural language processing (NLP), a bot can understand what a human is asking. The computer translates the natural language of a question into its own artificial language. It breaks down human inputs into coded units and uses algorithms to determine what is most likely being asked of it. From there, it determines the answer. Then, with natural language generation (NLG), it creates a response. NLG software allows the bot to construct and provide a response in the natural language format.
It may be tempting to assume that users will navigate across dialogs, creating a dialog stack, and at some point will navigate back in the direction they came from, unstacking the dialogs one by one in a neat and orderly way. For example, 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.
Your first question is how much of it does she want? 1 litre? 500ml? 200? She tells you she wants a 1 litre Tropicana 100% Orange Juice. Now you know that regular Tropicana is easily available, but 100% is hard to come by, so you call up a few stores beforehand to see where it’s available. You find one store that’s pretty close by, so you go back to your mother and tell her you found what she wanted. It’s $2, maybe $3, and after asking her for the money, you go on your way.
Of course, each messaging app has its own fine print for bots. For example, on Messenger a brand can send a message only if the user prompted the conversation, and if the user doesn't find value and opt to receive future notifications within those first 24 hours, there's no future communication. But to be honest, that's not enough to eradicate the threat of bad bots.
Chatbots give businesses a way to deliver this information in a comfortable, conversational manner. Customers can have all their questions answered without the pressure or obligation that make some individuals wary of interacting with a live salesperson. Once they’ve obtained enough information to make a decision, a chatbot can introduce a human representative to take the sale the rest of the way.
Polly may be a business-focused application, but the chatbot is designed to improve workplace happiness. Using surveys and feedback, managers can keep track of how effectively their teams are working and address problems before they escalate. This doesn’t only mean organizations will run more productively, but that workers will be happier in their jobs.
There is no one right answer to this question, as the best solution will depend upon the specifics of your scenario and how the user would reasonably expect the bot to respond. However, as your conversation complexity increases dialogs become harder to manage. For complex branchings situations, it may be easier to create your own flow of control logic to keep track of your user's conversation.
Indeed, this is one of the key benefits of chatbots – providing a 24/7/365 presence that can give prospects and customers access to information no matter when they need it. This, in turn, can result in cost-savings for companies that deploy chatbots, as they cut down on the labour-hours that would be required for staff to manage a direct messaging service every hour of the week.
For example, ecommerce companies will likely want a chatbot that can display products, handle shipping questions, but a healthcare chatbot would look very different. Also, while most chatbot software is continually upping the AI-ante, a company called Landbot is taking a different approach, stripping away the complexity to help create better customer conversations.
Your bot can use other AI services to further enrich the user experience. The Cognitive Services suite of pre-built AI services (which includes LUIS and QnA Maker) has services for vision, speech, language, search, and location. You can quickly add functionality such as language translation, spell checking, sentiment analysis, OCR, location awareness, and content moderation. These services can be wired up as middleware modules in your bot to interact more naturally and intelligently with the user.
How can our business leverage technology to better and more often engage younger audiences with our products and services? H&M is one of several retailers experimenting with and leveraging chatbots as a mobile marketing opportunity – according to a report by Accenture, 32 percent of the world (a large portion of the population 29 years old and younger) uses social media daily and 80 percent of that time is via mobile.
Interestingly, the as-yet unnamed conversational agent is currently an open-source project, meaning that anyone can contribute to the development of the bot’s codebase. The project is still in its earlier stages, but has great potential to help scientists, researchers, and care teams better understand how Alzheimer’s disease affects the brain. A Russian version of the bot is already available, and an English version is expected at some point this year.
H&M’s consistent increased sales over the past year and its August announcement to launch an eCommerce presence in Canada and South Korea during the fall of 2016, along with 11 new H&M online markets (for a total of 35 markets by the end of the year), appear to signify positive results for its chatbot implementation (though direct correlations are unavailable on its website).
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.
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.”
There are various search engines for bots, such as Chatbottle, Botlist and Thereisabotforthat, for example, helping developers to inform users about the launch of new talkbots. These sites also provide a ranking of bots by various parameters: the number of votes, user statistics, platforms, categories (travel, productivity, social interaction, e-commerce, entertainment, news, etc.). They feature more than three and a half thousand bots for Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype and Kik.
"From Russia With Love" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-12-09. Psychologist and Scientific American: Mind contributing editor Robert Epstein reports how he was initially fooled by a chatterbot posing as an attractive girl in a personal ad he answered on a dating website. In the ad, the girl portrayed herself as being in Southern California and then soon revealed, in poor English, that she was actually in Russia. He became suspicious after a couple of months of email exchanges, sent her an email test of gibberish, and she still replied in general terms. The dating website is not named. Scientific American: Mind, October–November 2007, page 16–17, "From Russia With Love: How I got fooled (and somewhat humiliated) by a computer". Also available online.