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.
“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.
There has been a great deal of controversy about the use of bots in an automated trading function. Auction website eBay has been to court in an attempt to suppress a third-party company from using bots to traverse their site looking for bargains; this approach backfired on eBay and attracted the attention of further bots. The United Kingdom-based bet exchange Betfair saw such a large amount of traffic coming from bots that it launched a WebService API aimed at bot programmers, through which it can actively manage bot interactions.
With natural language processing (NLP), a bot can understand what a human is asking. The computer translates the natural language of a question into its own artificial language. It breaks down human inputs into coded units and uses algorithms to determine what is most likely being asked of it. From there, it determines the answer. Then, with natural language generation (NLG), it creates a response. NLG software allows the bot to construct and provide a response in the natural language format.
It may be tempting to assume that users will navigate across dialogs, creating a dialog stack, and at some point will navigate back in the direction they came from, unstacking the dialogs one by one in a neat and orderly way. For example, the user will start at root dialog, invoke the new order dialog from there, and then invoke the product search dialog. Then the user will select a product and confirm, exiting the product search dialog, complete the order, exiting the new order dialog, and arrive back at the root dialog.
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.
It may be tempting to assume that users will perform procedural tasks one by one in a neat and orderly way. For example, in a procedural conversation flow using dialogs, the user will start at root dialog, invoke the new order dialog from there, and then invoke the product search dialog. Then the user will select a product and confirm, exiting the product search dialog, complete the order, exiting the new order dialog, and arrive back at the root dialog.
Reduce costs: The potential to reduce costs is one of the clearest benefits of using a chatbot. A chatbot can provide a new first line of support, supplement support during peak periods or offer an additional support option. In all of these cases, employing a chatbot can help reduce the number of users who need to speak with a human. You can avoid scaling up your staff or offering human support around the clock.
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.
The process of building, testing and deploying chatbots can be done on cloud-based chatbot development platforms offered by cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers such as Oracle Cloud Platform Yekaliva and IBM Watson. These cloud platforms provide Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence and Mobile Backend as a Service for chatbot development.
In a procedural conversation flow, you define the order of the questions and the bot will ask the questions in the order you defined. You can organize the questions into logical modules to keep the code centralized while staying focused on guiding the conversational. For example, you may design one module to contain the logic that helps the user browse for products and a separate module to contain the logic that helps the user create a new order.
Chatbots give businesses a way to deliver this information in a comfortable, conversational manner. Customers can have all their questions answered without the pressure or obligation that make some individuals wary of interacting with a live salesperson. Once they’ve obtained enough information to make a decision, a chatbot can introduce a human representative to take the sale the rest of the way.
Chatbots can perform a range of simple transactions. Telegram bots let users transfer money, buy train tickets, book hotel rooms, and more. AI chatbots are especially sought-after in the retail industry. WholeFoods, a healthy food store chain in the US, uses a chatbot to help customers find the nearest store. The 1-800-Flowers chatbot lets customers order flowers and gifts. In the image below, you can see more ways you might use AI chatbots for your business.
The bot (which also offers users the opportunity to chat with your friendly neighborhood Spiderman) isn’t a true conversational agent, in the sense that the bot’s responses are currently a little limited; this isn’t a truly “freestyle” chatbot. For example, in the conversation above, the bot didn’t recognize the reply as a valid response – kind of a bummer if you’re hoping for an immersive experience.
Interface designers have come to appreciate that humans' readiness to interpret computer output as genuinely conversational—even when it is actually based on rather simple pattern-matching—can be exploited for useful purposes. Most people prefer to engage with programs that are human-like, and this gives chatbot-style techniques a potentially useful role in interactive systems that need to elicit information from users, as long as that information is relatively straightforward and falls into predictable categories. Thus, for example, online help systems can usefully employ chatbot techniques to identify the area of help that users require, potentially providing a "friendlier" interface than a more formal search or menu system. This sort of usage holds the prospect of moving chatbot technology from Weizenbaum's "shelf ... reserved for curios" to that marked "genuinely useful computational methods".