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.
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Designing for conversational interfaces represents a big shift in the way we are used to thinking about interaction. Chatbots have less signifiers and affordances than websites and apps – which means words have to work harder to deliver clarity, cohesion and utility for the user. It is a change of paradigm that requires designers to re-wire their brain, their deliverables and their design process to create successful bot experiences.
If the success of WeChat in China is any sign, these utility bots are the future. Without ever leaving the messaging app, users can hail a taxi, video chat a friend, order food at a restaurant, and book their next vacation. In fact, WeChat has become so ingrained in society that a business would be considered obsolete without an integration. People who divide their time between China and the West complain that leaving this world behind is akin to stepping back in time.
A chatbot that functions through machine learning has an artificial neural network inspired by the neural nodes of the human brain. The bot is programmed to self-learn as it is introduced to new dialogues and words. In effect, as a chatbot receives new voice or textual dialogues, the number of inquiries that it can reply and the accuracy of each response it gives increases. Facebook has a machine learning chatbot that creates a platform for companies to interact with their consumers through the Facebook Messenger application. Using the Messenger bot, users can buy shoes from Spring, order a ride from Uber, and have election conversations with the New York Times which used the Messenger bot to cover the 2016 presidential election between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. If a user asked the New York Times through his/her app a question like “What’s new today?” or “What do the polls say?” the bot would reply to the request.
For example, say you want to purchase a pair of shoes online from Nordstrom. You would have to browse their site and look around until you find the pair you wanted. Then you would add the pair to your cart to go through the motions of checking out. But in the case Nordstrom had a conversational bot, you would simply tell the bot what you’re looking for and get an instant answer. You would be able to search within an interface that actually learns what you like, even when you can’t coherently articulate it. And in the not-so-distant future, we’ll even have similar experiences when we visit the retail stores.
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.”
Students from different backgrounds can share their views and perspectives on a specific matter while a chatbot can still adapt to each one of them individually. Chatbots can improve engagement among students and encourage interaction with the rest of the class by assigning group work and projects - similarly to what teachers usually do in regular classes.
Now, with the rise of website chatbots, this trend of two-way conversations can be taken to a whole new level. Conversational marketing can be done across many channels, such as over the phone or via SMS. However, an increasing number of companies are leveraging social media to drive their conversational marketing strategy to distinguish their brand and solidify their brand’s voice and values. When most people refer to conversational marketing, they’re talking about interactions started using chatbots and live chat – that move to personal conversations.
No one wants to download another restaurant app and put in their credit-card information just to order. Livingston sees an opportunity in being able to come into a restaurant, scan a code, and have the restaurant bot appear in the chat. And instead of typing out all the food a person wants, the person should be able to, for example, easily order the same thing as last time and charge it to the same card.
The classic historic early chatbots are ELIZA (1966) and PARRY (1972). More recent notable programs include A.L.I.C.E., Jabberwacky and D.U.D.E (Agence Nationale de la Recherche and CNRS 2006). While ELIZA and PARRY were used exclusively to simulate typed conversation, many chatbots now include functional features such as games and web searching abilities. In 1984, a book called The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed was published, allegedly written by the chatbot Racter (though the program as released would not have been capable of doing so).