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.
Developed to assist Nigerian students preparing for their secondary school exam, the University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), SimbiBot is a chatbot that uses past exam questions to help students prepare for a variety of subjects. It offers multiple choice quizzes to help students test their knowledge, shows them where they went wrong, and even offers tips and advice based on how well the student is progressing.
However, as irresistible as this story was to news outlets, Facebook’s engineers didn’t pull the plug on the experiment out of fear the bots were somehow secretly colluding to usurp their meatbag overlords and usher in a new age of machine dominance. They ended the experiment due to the fact that, once the bots had deviated far enough from acceptable English language parameters, the data gleaned by the conversational aspects of the test was of limited value.
“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.)
Once your bot is running in production, you will need a DevOps team to keep it that way. Continually monitor the system to ensure the bot operates at peak performance. Use the logs sent to Application Insights or Cosmos DB to create monitoring dashboards, either using Application Insights itself, Power BI, or a custom web app dashboard. Send alerts to the DevOps team if critical errors occur or performance falls below an acceptable threshold.
Chatbots can strike up a conversation with any customer about any issue at any time of day. They engage in friendly interactions with customers. Besides, virtual assistants only give a bit of information at a time. This way they don’t tire customers with irrelevant and unnecessary information. Chatbots can maintain conversations and keep customers on your website longer.
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.
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.