Chatbots - Ready to Take Over the World?

Top of Mind

Chatbots - Ready to Take Over the World?

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  June 02, 2016

I have heard jokes from a lot of dudes saying they had a crush on the automated navigation bot who provided them with in-car directions (and did so with a nice English accent) when these tools were first introduced. The movie Her with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson took that to a whole new level.

Apple (News - Alert) captured our hearts and minds with the introduction of Siri. And now a lot of people are really digging on Amazon’s Alexa.

But it seems we are just on the precipice in what appears to be a much deeper relationship with personalized digital assistants and chatbots.

Chatbots can help customers with a range of things – including presenting them news based on specified criteria, getting weight loss advice, and much more. They automate processes, and can be smart and poll users about what they want, and then can come back to them with those things. They have been described as the new version of Siri or the digital assistant depicted in the film Her.

And what Facebook (News - Alert) – which has 1.65 billion daily active users, and a Messenger app that is used by a whopping 900 million people monthly – is doing on this front seems to hold great potential for the rise of the chatbot in a widespread way.

Indeed, Peter Friedman of LiveWorld believes Facebook will come to dominate the customer service arena. Facebook’s newly announced Messenger Platform with bots is an important part of that.

Social customer experience company LiveWorld already has an integration with Messenger. And Aspect (News - Alert) last month formally unveiled its own chatbot, called Mila.

Aspect’s Mila will initially be accessible to users via SMS and voice, but next year Aspect says it will offer Facebook Messenger and Twitter (News - Alert) integrations.

Unlike other chatbots, however, Mila was not designed for the masses. Instead, she was created with contact center agents and managers in mind, explains Mike Bourke, senior vice president and general manager of workforce optimization at Aspect. The chatbot will allow these users to get a special number for Mila through which they can SMS or speak questions – like What’s my schedule for the day? Are any of my agents late for work today? Is John in today? – and get quick answers. Mila is available now, and two Aspect customers, one in the online retail space and the other in the hospitality arena, will be among the first to leverage Mila. 

People today are used to interacting with apps and web pages, notes Friedman of LiveWorld, but that is a fraction of what people do daily. Facebook Messenger and similar solutions from companies like SnapChat, WeChat, and WhatsApp, he says, will move things back to conversational patterns in which control is in the hands of the customer (as opposed to the app or website designer).

“Twitter and Facebook provide an instant line of communication with those customers, offering brands the opportunity to solve problems quickly and with a personal touch,” as Friedman wrote in the May issue of CUSTOMER, a sister magazine to INTERNET TELEPHONY. “Additionally, Facebook Messenger offers a call-to-action button to help consumers find what they need. Consumers who have friendly interactions are 76 percent more likely to recommend the brand.”

Speaking of WebChat, Friedman suggests that Facebook is taking a cue from that Chinese company. It allows customers to conduct e-commerce, get information, and make payments. (For example, in February Hong Kong WeChat users were provided with the ability to send others money in the traditional envelopes – called red packets – used during Chinese New Year.) That kind of thing, he says, will happen on Messenger as well.

“Facebook is doing this because it’s going to be big,” Friedman says, “it’s not big because Facebook is doing it.”

However, while there’s lots of excitement swirling around chatbots, they are very immature at this point, according to a New York Times article by Jenna Wortham. Chatbots also can result in unintended consequences. As has been widely reported, Microsoft (News - Alert) put the kibosh on its chatbot, Tay, after she tweeted anti-semitic comments.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi