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.
For as long as I can remember, email has been a fundamentally important channel for a large majority of businesses. The ability to market products directly through a channel that scales up to an incredibly high ceiling is very attractive. The only problem is that it's costing more and more money to acquire email addresses from potential customers, and the engagement from email is getting worse and worse.
Three main reasons are often cited for this reluctance: the first is the human side—they think users will be reluctant to engage with a bot. The other two have more to do with bots’ expected performance: there is skepticism that bots will be able to appropriately incorporate history and context to create personalized experiences and believe they won’t be able to adequately understand human input.
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.
Perhaps the most important aspect of implementing a chatbot is selecting the right natural language processing (NLP) engine. If the user interacts with the bot through voice, for example, then the chatbot requires a speech recognition engine. Business owners also have to decide whether they want structured or unstructured conversations. Chatbots built for structured conversations are highly scripted, which simplifies programming but restricts the kinds of things that the users can ask.
2017 was the year that AI and chatbots took off in business, not just in developed nations, but across the whole world. Sage have reported that this global trend is boosting international collaboration between startups across all continents, such as the European Commission-backed Startup Europe Comes to Africa (SEC2A) which was held in November 2017.
Tay, an AI chatbot that learns from previous interaction, caused major controversy due to it being targeted by internet trolls on Twitter. The bot was exploited, and after 16 hours began to send extremely offensive Tweets to users. This suggests that although the bot learnt effectively from experience, adequate protection was not put in place to prevent misuse.
This was a strategy eBay deployed for holiday gift-giving in 2018. The company recognized that purchasing gifts for friends and family isn’t necessarily a simple task. For many of their customers, selecting gifts had become a stressful and arduous process, especially when they didn’t have a particular item in mind. In response to this feeling, eBay partnered with Facebook Messenger to introduce ShopBot.
Creating a comprehensive conversational flow chart will feel like the greatest hurdle of the process, but know it's just the beginning. It's the commitment to tweaking and improving in the months and years following that makes a great bot. As Clara de Soto, cofounder of Reply.ai, told VentureBeat, "You're never just 'building a bot' so much as launching a 'conversational strategy' — one that's constantly evolving and being optimized based on how users are actually interacting with it."
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.
The trained neural network is less code than an comparable algorithm but it requires a potentially large matrix of “weights”. In a relatively small sample, where the training sentences have 150 unique words and 30 classes this would be a matrix of 150x30. Imagine multiplying a matrix of this size 100,000 times to establish a sufficiently low error rate. This is where processing speed comes in.
However, the revelations didn’t stop there. The researchers also learned that the bots had become remarkably sophisticated negotiators in a short period of time, with one bot even attempting to mislead a researcher by demonstrating interest in a particular item so it could gain crucial negotiating leverage at a later stage by willingly “sacrificing” the item in which it had feigned interest, indicating a remarkable level of premeditation and strategic “thinking.”
“Bots go bust” — so went the first of the five AI startup predictions in 2017 by Bradford Cross, countering some recent excitement around conversational AI (see for example O’Reilly’s “Why 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bot”). The main argument was that social intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence is lacking, rendering bots utilitarian and boring.
Other companies explore ways they can use chatbots internally, for example for Customer Support, Human Resources, or even in Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Overstock, for one, has reportedly launched a chatbot named Mila to automate certain simple yet time-consuming processes when requesting for a sick leave. Other large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault and Citroën are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact. A SaaS chatbot business ecosystem has been steadily growing since the F8 Conference when Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app.
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Ultimately, only time will tell how effective the likes of Facebook Messenger will become in the long term. As more and more companies look to use chatbots within the platform, the greater the frequency of messages that individual users will receive. This could result in Facebook (and other messaging platforms) placing stricter restrictions on usage, but until then I'd recommend testing as much as possible.
With competitor Venmo already established, peer-to-peer payments is not in and of itself a compelling feature for Snapchat. However, adding wallet functionality and payment methods to the app does lay the groundwork for Snapchat to delve directly into commerce. The messaging app’s commerce strategy became more clear in April 2016 with its launch of shoppable stories with select partners in its Discover section. For the first time, while viewing video stories from Target and Lancome, users were able to “swipe up” to visit an e-commerce page embedded within the Snapchat app where they could purchase products from those partners.
Lack contextual awareness. Not everyone has all of the data that Google has – but chatbots today lack the awareness that we expect them to have. We assume that chatbot technology will know our IP address, browsing history, previous purchases, but that is just not the case today. I would argue that many chatbots even lack basic connection to other data silos to improve their ability to answer questions.
Today, more than ever, instant availability and approachability matter. Which is why your presence should be dictated by your customer’s preference or the type of message your business wants to convey. Keep in mind that these can overlap or change depending on your demographic you wish to acquire or cater to. There are very few set-in-stone rules when it comes to new customers.
Chatbots can have varying levels of complexity and can be stateless or stateful. A stateless chatbot approaches each conversation as if it was interacting with a new user. In contrast, a stateful chatbot is able to review past interactions and frame new responses in context. Adding a chatbot to a company's service or sales department requires low or no coding; today, a number of chatbot service providers that allow developers to build conversational user interfaces for third-party business applications.
Whilst the payout wasn't huge within the early days of Amazon, those who got in early are now seeing huge rewards, with 38% of shoppers starting their buying journey within Amazon (source), making it the number one retail search engine. Some studies are suggesting that Amazon is responsible for 80% of e-commerce growth for publicly traded web retailers (source).