Having a conversation with a computer might have seemed like science fiction even a few years ago. But now, most of us already use chatbots for a variety of tasks. For example, as end users, we ask the virtual assistant on our smartphones to find a local restaurant and provide directions. Or, we use an online banking chatbot for help with a loan application.
“To be honest, I’m a little worried about the bot hype overtaking the bot reality,” said M.G. Siegler, a partner with GV, the investment firm formerly known as Google Ventures. “Yes, the high level promise of what bots can offer is great. But this isn’t going to happen overnight. And it’s going to take a lot of experimentation and likely bot failure before we get there.”
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.
Enter Roof Ai, a chatbot that helps real-estate marketers to automate interacting with potential leads and lead assignment via social media. The bot identifies potential leads via Facebook, then responds almost instantaneously in a friendly, helpful, and conversational tone that closely resembles that of a real person. Based on user input, Roof Ai prompts potential leads to provide a little more information, before automatically assigning the lead to a sales agent.
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.
Chatbots are a great way to answer customer questions. According to a case study, Amtrak uses chatbots to answer roughly 5,000,000 questions a year. Not only are the questions answered promptly, but Amtrak saved $1,000,000 in customer service expenses in the year the study was conducted. It also experienced a 25 percent increase in travel bookings.
Previous generations of chatbots were present on company websites, e.g. Ask Jenn from Alaska Airlines which debuted in 2008 or Expedia's virtual customer service agent which launched in 2011. The newer generation of chatbots includes IBM Watson-powered "Rocky", introduced in February 2017 by the New York City-based e-commerce company Rare Carat to provide information to prospective diamond buyers.
Other companies explore ways they can use chatbots internally, for example for Customer Support, Human Resources, or even in Internet-of-Things (IoT) projects. Overstock.com, for one, has reportedly launched a chatbot named Mila to automate certain simple yet time-consuming processes when requesting for a sick leave. Other large companies such as Lloyds Banking Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Renault and Citroën are now using automated online assistants instead of call centres with humans to provide a first point of contact. A SaaS chatbot business ecosystem has been steadily growing since the F8 Conference when Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg unveiled that Messenger would allow chatbots into the app. In large companies, like in hospitals and aviation organizations, IT architects are designing reference architectures for Intelligent Chatbots that are used to unlock and share knowledge and experience in the organization more efficiently, and reduce the errors in answers from expert service desks significantly. These Intelligent Chatbots make use of all kinds of artificial intelligence like image moderation and natural language understanding (NLU), natural language generation (NLG), machine learning and deep learning.
However, the revelations didn’t stop there. The researchers also learned that the bots had become remarkably sophisticated negotiators in a short period of time, with one bot even attempting to mislead a researcher by demonstrating interest in a particular item so it could gain crucial negotiating leverage at a later stage by willingly “sacrificing” the item in which it had feigned interest, indicating a remarkable level of premeditation and strategic “thinking.”