The Rise of the Chatbot

Reading Time: 6 minutes
16 May 2019

When was the last time you chatted online with a customer service agent? Maybe you were complaining about receiving the wrong item in your order on Amazon or looking for assistance on a company’s Facebook page. It’s highly possible that the person on the other end trying to solve your problem wasn’t a person at all and that you were speaking with an artificial intelligence chatbot, essentially a talking robot.

A chatbot is nothing more than a computer program that automates certain tasks, typically by chatting with a user through a conversational interface.

How do you know if you’re talking to a chatbot?

Here are a few signs. Chatbots will often respond at superhuman speeds, especially when processing simple language inputs like “yes” or “no.” An easier way to tell is the chatbots habit of using repetitive outputs, like repeatedly telling you they don’t understand what you’re saying.

Chatbots also often give themselves away by trying to sell you things and sending you links you didn’t ask for. Unhelpful chatbots may also request sensitive information without you indicating that you want to make a purchase.

And, lastly, the vast majority of chatbots will give themselves away if you just keep talking to them. Ask them what they think about current events or how they feel, or simply let a conversation stagnate by using filler words and the limitations of the chatbot will eventually become obvious to you.

Are chatbots getting smarter?

The most advanced bots are now powered by artificial intelligence which helps them to understand complex requests, personalise responses, and improve interactions over time. This technology is still in its infancy, so most bots follow a set of rules programmed by a human via a bot-building platform. It’s as simple as ordering a list of “if-then” statements and writing canned responses, often without needing to know a line of code.

According to a HubSpot research report, 71% of people are willing to use messaging apps to get customer assistance. Many do it because they want their problem solved fast and if you’ve ever used Siri or another mobile voice assistant, you know there’s a much lower tolerance for machines to make mistakes. However, the intelligence of these chatbots is increasing at a rapid pace so this is fast becoming a non issue.

Chatbots on messenger apps

The introduction of chatbots in the messaging app industry has opened up new gateways for smartphone users and the technology can now be used for personal use or on company social media pages for business use. A well-built chatbot can be a great addition to a company’s website because it can help to boost conversion rates and increase customer satisfaction by improving the time it takes for customers to resolve most problems.

The real credit for bringing chatbots further into the spotlight goes to Facebook Messenger, due to the fact that Facebook made it possible to integrate chatbots into the platform in 2016. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has even pivoted the company’s entire future towards private messaging in recognition that Facebook Messenger alone processes more than eight billion messages around the world each day.

Furthermore, messaging apps have already surpassed social media platforms as of 2016 in terms of users. Given this huge shift towards messaging apps over social media platforms, chatbot marketing has become one of the biggest growth opportunities in the digital marketing space. Chatbots, which have the ability to  interact with humans 24/7 without human intervention are being used on a wide range of company social media pages, websites and mobile apps for marketing, sales and customer service.


How to create a positive Chatbot User Experience

Although there is no such thing as the perfect chatbot, it is vital that you invest in user experience and design if you want to create an optimised user experience. Each bot will serve a slightly different purpose so it is important to change your approach to design depending on the purpose of your chatbot, the audience it will be communicating with and how you want your brand to be perceived.

Be Honest

When Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazi enigma code stated in 1950 that intelligent machines would one day be indistinguishable from a human during a text-only conversation it would have been almost impossible to believe.  However, computer scientists have spent the last 70 years trying to accomplish just that and the modern iteration of the chatbot is close to achieving this prediction. To build and maintain user trust, it is vital that companies communicate with customers as to whether they are talking to a real person or not.

Have a Purpose

To create a positive user experience it is important that your chatbot fulfills a specific need or service. It is more important that it does one thing very well as opposed to trying to do everything to an ok level. If a chatbot has been created to make a process easier for your customers then you need to make sure it is serving that purpose.

Have Personality

Your bot must have a likeable personality in order to create a positive user experience. The more likeable the bot the more your users will trust it and as a byproduct engage with it to solve their problems. Furthermore, the personality you assign to your bot should be in line with the overall image you want to create for your company and should reflect the personality of your target audience. To achieve this, you should create customer personas to better understand the behaviour of your audience and what they expect from the website and the company.

Keep it Conversational

Any bot that you use should try to replicate the mannerisms of your target audience and adopt a conversational approach. Conversational interfaces are popular because we as humans are wired to associate conversations as interactions with people and not with companies or robots. Furthermore, to create a more authentic conversational experience, it may be wise to use waiting times between messages to ensure that users have time ton process the information that the chatbot has provided. Waiting times also create a more authentic conversation because when people talk to each other they do not respond immediately upon receiving a message. 

ETHICAL PROBLEMS WITH CHATBOTS

Chatbots are already raising some tricky ethical dilemmas as they become harder to distinguish from humans.

For example, is it acceptable to create bots that attempt to pass itself off as human? While some bots are straightforward about being machines, others are not. They’re good enough at hiding their nature to raise questions about how ethical it is to use chatbots without them explicitly disclosing that they are bots.

Data privacy is another hot ethical topic when it comes to chatbots. If data gathered by a chatbot is shared internally, customers should have the right to know before they start talking to the bot. Given that users may be tempted into unprofessional communications when they know they’re interacting with bots, this begs the question, how many users would be comfortable knowing that transcripts of conversations with chatbots might be read by real people?

Chatbots that are dishonest by design add a potentially criminal dimension to these agents. A chatbot designed to misrepresent its identity or gather and use information without consent is obviously unethical and possibly illegal. As they learn, chatbots cannot be picking up vulgarities and obscenities or offer discriminatory or violent views. Remember Microsoft’s Tay, which had to be taken offline after it was taught to espouse racism and sexism within 24 hours.

Conclusion

When it comes to adopting a chatbot for your business there are a number of areas that need to be considered. If you follow the recommendations above, you can avoid the kind of bad experiences that could put customers off using your chatbot again. Furthermore, if you can also ensure that you offer your customers a better overall experience as a result of the implementation of a chatbot you can increase conversions and drive overall business performance.

If you want to learn more about what chatbots can do to optimise your digital marketing practices then get in contact with the team at Digital Strategy Consultants to learn more about what this technology can do for you.

 

About the AuthorMark O'Connell Digital Strategy Analytics Project Management Dublin

Mark O’Connell is a digital expert working at Digital Strategy Consultants. He has a passion for strategy and for assisting organizations achieve their online goals through best practice techniques and priming them to drive competitive advantage through early adoption of emerging digital technologies. Mark holds a LL.B (BS) (Hons) in Law & Business (TCD), MSc in Data Intelligence (Fordham University, New York) and a MSc in Marketing Strategy (Antwerp Management School). His current research interests are in the field of analytics and strategy and how these disciplines can be used to drive competitive advantage.

 

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