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.
The fact that you can now run ads directly to Messenger is an enormous opportunity for any business. This skips the convoluted and leaky process of trying to acquire someone's email address to nurture them outside of Facebook's platform. Instead, you can retain the connection with someone inside Facebook and improve the overall conversion rates to receiving an engagement.
In this article, we shed a spotlight on 7 real-world chatbots/virtual assistants across industries that are in action and reaping value for their parent companies. From streamlined operations and saved human productivity to increased customer engagement, the following examples are worth a read if you’ve ever considered leveraging chatbot technology for your business (or are curious about the possibilities).
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.
Before you even write a single line of code, it's important to write a functional specification so the development team has a clear idea of what the bot is expected to do. The specification should include a reasonably comprehensive list of user inputs and expected bot responses in various knowledge domains. This living document will be an invaluable guide for developing and testing your bot.
The chatbot must rely on spoken or written communications to discover what the shopper or user wants and is limited to the messaging platform’s capabilities when it comes to responding to the shopper or user. This requires a much better understanding of natural language and intent. It also means that developers must write connections to several different platforms, again like Messenger or Slack, if the chatbot is to have the same potential reach as a website.
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.
Endurance is a companion chatbot that uses neurolinguistics programming (better known as NLP) to have friendly conversations with suspected patients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It uses AI technology to maintain a lucid conversation while simultaneously testing the human user’s ability to remember information in different ways. The chatbot encourages the user to talk about their favorite activities, memories, music, etc. This doesn’t just test the person’s memory but actively promotes their ability to recall.
While messaging and voice interfaces are central components, they fit into a larger picture of increasing infusion of technology into our daily lives, which in turn is unlocking new potential for brand-to-consumer interaction. The fact is, technology overall is becoming more deeply woven into our lives, and the entire ecosystem is enjoying tighter cohesion through the increasing availability and sophistication of APIs. Smart companies are finding new and innovative touch points with consumers that are contextual, relevant, highly personal, and yes, conversational. Commerce is becoming not only more conversational but more ubiquitous and seamlessly integrated into our lives, and the way we interact with brands will be forever changed as a result.

But, as any human knows, no question or statement in a conversation really has a limited number of potential responses. There is an infinite number of ways to combine the finite number of words in a human language to say something. Real conversation requires creativity, spontaneity, and inference. Right now, those traits are still the realm of humans alone. There is still a gamut of work to finish in order to make bots as person-centric as Rogerian therapists, but bots and their creators are getting closer every day.
I will not go into the details of extracting each feature value here. It can be referred from the documentation of rasa-core link that I provided above. So, assuming we extracted all the required feature values from the sample conversations in the required format, we can then train an AI model like LSTM followed by softmax to predict the next_action. Referring to the above figure, this is what the ‘dialogue management’ component does. Why LSTM is more appropriate? — As mentioned above, we want our model to be context aware and look back into the conversational history to predict the next_action. This is akin to a time-series model (pls see my other LSTM-Time series article) and hence can be best captured in the memory state of the LSTM model. The amount of conversational history we want to look back can be a configurable hyper-parameter to the model.
Typically, companies applied a passive engagement method with consumers. In other words, customer support only responds to complaining consumers – but never initiate any conversations or look for feedback. While this method was fine for a long while, it doesn’t work anymore with millennials. Users want to communicate with attentive brands who have a 24/7 support system and they won’t settle for anything less.
Closed domain chatbots focus on a specific knowledge domain, and these bots may fail to answer questions in other knowledge domains. For example, a restaurant booking conversational bot will be able to take your reservation, but may not respond to a question about the price of an air ticket. A user could hypothetically attempt to take the conversation elsewhere, however, closed domain chatbots are not required, nor often programmed to handle such cases.
A chatbot works in a couple of ways: set guidelines and machine learning. A chatbot that functions with a set of guidelines in place is limited in its conversation. It can only respond to a set number of requests and vocabulary, and is only as intelligent as its programming code. An example of a limited bot is an automated banking bot that asks the caller some questions to understand what the caller wants done. The bot would make a command like “Please tell me what I can do for you by saying account balances, account transfer, or bill payment.” If the customer responds with "credit card balance," the bot would not understand the request and would proceed to either repeat the command or transfer the caller to a human assistant.
1-800-Flowers’ 2017 first quarter results showed total revenues had increased 6.3 percent to $165.8 million, with the Company’s Gourmet Food and Gift Baskets business as a significant contributor. CEO Chris McCann stated, “…our Fannie May business recorded positive same store sales as well as solid eCommerce growth, reflecting the success of the initiatives we have implemented to enhance its performance.” While McCann doesn’t go into specifics, we assume that initiatives include the implementation of GWYN, which also seems to be supported by CB Insights’ finding: 70% of customers ordering through the chat bot were new 1-800-Flowers customers as of June 2016.
Unfortunately, my mom can’t really engage in meaningful conversations anymore, but many people suffering with dementia retain much of their conversational abilities as their illness progresses. However, the shame and frustration that many dementia sufferers experience often make routine, everyday talks with even close family members challenging. That’s why Russian technology company Endurance developed its companion chatbot.
A toolkit can be integral to getting started in building chatbots, so insert, BotKit. It gives a helping hand to developers making bots for Facebook Messenger, Slack, Twilio, and more. This BotKit can be used to create clever, conversational applications which map out the way that real humans speak. This essential detail differentiates from some of its other chatbot toolkit counterparts.
As in the prior method, each class is given with some number of example sentences. Once again each sentence is broken down by word (stemmed) and each word becomes an input for the neural network. The synaptic weights are then calculated by iterating through the training data thousands of times, each time adjusting the weights slightly to greater accuracy. By recalculating back across multiple layers (“back-propagation”) the weights of all synapses are calibrated while the results are compared to the training data output. These weights are like a ‘strength’ measure, in a neuron the synaptic weight is what causes something to be more memorable than not. You remember a thing more because you’ve seen it more times: each time the ‘weight’ increases slightly.
Despite the fact that ALICE relies on such an old codebase, the bot offers users a remarkably accurate conversational experience. Of course, no bot is perfect, especially one that’s old enough to legally drink in the U.S. if only it had a physical form. ALICE, like many contemporary bots, struggles with the nuances of some questions and returns a mixture of inadvertently postmodern answers and statements that suggest ALICE has greater self-awareness for which we might give the agent credit.
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).
“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
How far are we from building systems with commonsense? One often-heard answer is: not in the near future, while the realistic answer is: we don’t know. Last year, I spent some time trying to build a system that can do better than an information retrieval baseline in taking fourth-grade science exam (which still has a ways to go to gain a passing score of 65%). I failed hard. Here’s an example to get a sense of the difficulty of these questions.
“Utility gets something done following a prompt. At a higher level the more entertainment-related chatbots are able to answer all questions and get things done. Siri and Cortana you can have small talk with, as well as getting things done, so they are much harder to build. They took years and years of giant company’s efforts. Different companies that don’t have those resources, like Facebook, will build more constrained utility bots.”

To be more specific, understand why the client wants to build a chatbot and what the customer wants their chatbot to do. Finding answers to this query will guide the designer to create conversations aimed at meeting end goals. When the designer knows why the chatbot is being built, they are better placed to design the conversation with the chatbot.


ETL. The bot relies on information and knowledge extracted from the raw data by an ETL process in the backend. This data might be structured (SQL database), semi-structured (CRM system, FAQs), or unstructured (Word documents, PDFs, web logs). An ETL subsystem extracts the data on a fixed schedule. The content is transformed and enriched, then loaded into an intermediary data store, such as Cosmos DB or Azure Blob Storage.
Chatbots can direct customers to a live agent if the AI can’t settle the matter. This lets human agents focus their efforts on the heavy lifting. AI chatbots also increase employee productivity. Globe Telecom automated their customer service via Messenger and saw impressive results. The company increased employee productivity by 3.5 times. And their customer satisfaction increased by 22 percent.
A chatbot is an automated program that interacts with customers like a human would and cost little to nothing to engage with. Chatbots attend to customers at all times of the day and week and are not limited by time or a physical location. This makes its implementation appealing to a lot of businesses that may not have the man-power or financial resources to keep employees working around the clock.
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