A virtual assistant is an app that comprehends natural, ordinary language voice commands and carries out tasks for the users. Well-known virtual assistants include Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana. Also, virtual assistants are generally cloud-based programs so they need internet-connected devices and/or applications in order to work. Virtual assistants can perform tasks like adding calendar appointments, controlling and checking the status of a smart home, sending text messages, and getting directions.
I argued that it is super hard to scale a one-trick TODA into a general assistant that helps the user getting things done across multiple tasks. An intelligence assistant is arguably expected to hold an informal chit-chat with the user. It is this area where we are staring into perhaps the biggest challenge of AI. Observe how Samantha introduces herself to Joaquin Phoenix’s Ted in the clip below:
As the above chart (source) illustrates, email click-rate has been steadily declining. Whilst open rates seem to be increasing - largely driven by mobile - the actual engagement from email is nosediving. Not only that, but it's becoming more and more difficult to even reach someone's email inbox; Google's move to separate out promotional emails into their 'promotions' tab and increasing problems of email deliverability have been top reasons behind this.
“Today, chat isn’t yet being perceived as an engagement driver, but more of a customer service operation[…]” Horwitz writes for Chatbots Magazine. “Brands and marketers can start collecting data around the engagement and interaction of end users. Those that are successful could see higher brand recognition, turning user-level mobile moments into huge returns.”
However, if you’re trying to develop a sophisticated bot that can understand more than a couple of basic commands, you’re heading down a potentially complicated path. More elaborately coded bots respond to various forms of user questions and responses. The bots have typically been “trained” on databases of thousands of words, queries, or sentences so that they can learn to detect lexical similarity. A good e-commerce bot “knows” that trousers are a kind of pants (if you are in the US), though this is beyond the comprehension of a simple, untrained bot.
Chatting with a bot should be like talking to a human that knows everything. If you're using a bot to change an airline reservation, the bot should know if you have an unused credit on your account and whether you typically pick the aisle or window seat. Artificial intelligence will continue to radically shape this front, but a bot should connect with your current systems so a shared contact record can drive personalization.
I've come across this challenge many times, which has made me very focused on adopting new channels that have potential at an early stage to reap the rewards. Just take video ads within Facebook as an example. We're currently at a point where video ads are reaching their peak; cost is still relatively low and engagement is high, but, like with most ad platforms, increased competition will drive up those prices and make it less and less viable for smaller companies (and larger ones) to invest in it.
Foreseeing immense potential, businesses are starting to invest heavily in the burgeoning bot economy. A number of brands and publishers have already deployed bots on messaging and collaboration channels, including HP, 1-800-Flowers, and CNN. While the bot revolution is still in the early phase, many believe 2016 will be the year these conversational interactions take off.
For example, say you want to purchase a pair of shoes online from Nordstrom. You would have to browse their site and look around until you find the pair you wanted. Then you would add the pair to your cart to go through the motions of checking out. But in the case Nordstrom had a conversational bot, you would simply tell the bot what you’re looking for and get an instant answer. You would be able to search within an interface that actually learns what you like, even when you can’t coherently articulate it. And in the not-so-distant future, we’ll even have similar experiences when we visit the retail stores.
H&M’s consistent increased sales over the past year and its August announcement to launch an eCommerce presence in Canada and South Korea during the fall of 2016, along with 11 new H&M online markets (for a total of 35 markets by the end of the year), appear to signify positive results for its chatbot implementation (though direct correlations are unavailable on its website).
Today, consumers are more aware of technology than ever. While some marketers may be worried about overusing automation and chat tools because their tech-savvy audience might notice. Others are embracing the bots and using them to improve the user journey by providing a more personalized experience. Ironically, sometimes bots are the key to adding a human touch to your marketing communications.
The classic historic early chatbots are ELIZA (1966) and PARRY (1972). More recent notable programs include A.L.I.C.E., Jabberwacky and D.U.D.E (Agence Nationale de la Recherche and CNRS 2006). While ELIZA and PARRY were used exclusively to simulate typed conversation, many chatbots now include functional features such as games and web searching abilities. In 1984, a book called The Policeman's Beard is Half Constructed was published, allegedly written by the chatbot Racter (though the program as released would not have been capable of doing so).