What to expect from the rise of chatbots

Chatbots are rapidly gaining users and screen time
Rafael Domene, Partner, PRG/ TeleTech
Rafael Domene, Partner, PRG/ TeleTech


By Rafael Domene, Partner, PRG/ TeleTech

Studies show that consumers are experiencing mobile app fatigue. They’re just not that into them anymore, with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is mobile messaging apps—consumers are spending more and more time on messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, WeChat, and others. Naturally, companies want to be part of these conversations. And increasingly, they’re using chatbots to do it.

Chatbots on messaging apps allow brands to personally engage at scale with people on the platforms where they’re already spending a lot of time. They are computer programs that use machine learning to pick up on conversation patterns and mimic human conversation when reacting to spoken or written prompts. Chatbots can be connected to a variety of data sources via APIs to deliver information and services on demand.

The potential for chatbots to enhance customer experiences has companies betting on them as a new way of interacting with consumers, but early examples show that chatbots still have a lot to learn.

What’s next: Smart messaging

Right now, chatbots essentially perform the same services as an IVR system on a messaging platform. But analysts predict chatbots and messaging apps will soon be able to perform far more advanced services that deepen relationships with customers.

“In the next three to five years, messaging apps will rise in tandem with adjacent technologies,” according to a recent Forrester Research report titled, “The Future of Messaging Apps.” “Technology innovation in natural language processing, semantic search, image and voice recognition, and especially A.I. will progressively blur the lines between messaging apps, bots, and voice-based assistants,” the authors write.

In other words, messaging apps will soon leverage more data sources and technologies to deliver smarter, contextually driven services on branded accounts. “I think a big one will be improving effectiveness of communication,” Hong, an associate professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, who is studying human-computer interactions, says. “This might include using sensor data to let people know you got home OK, or that you’re driving and can’t chat right now.”

The race is on among companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft to build more powerful messaging apps. “We think we’re on the cusp of messaging version two,” Nick Fox, who oversees communication products at Google, recently told Wired. “Messaging is going from being just about sending text to really expressing yourself much more fully, much more broadly, much more naturally. And then to getting stuff done in your chats.”

The first phase of the messaging/chat app revolution was dedicated to growth and driving adoption rates. Companies are beginning to enter the second phase, which is about building out services and monetising a chat app’s user base. But this phase will likely be more challenging as developers try to figure out which chatbots create the most engagement.

The downside to experimentation is that the market for chatbots will also be glutted with bots that offer little value, just as we’ve seen happening with the app economy. Smarter developers will have learnt their lesson and will focus on chatbots that are simple to use and provide value.

After all, developers have plenty of incentives to build better bots that allow companies to deliver more convenient and personalised services. Imagine the demand for a tool that allows customers to schedule a service repair via chat and receive alerts when the repair truck is on its way (or running late). Or a virtual assistant that tracks traffic conditions and tells you what time to leave in order to reach the airport or a meeting on time. People will be more likely to adopt automated tools that allow them to focus on the tasks that need a human touch.

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