Conversational bots “live” online and give customers a familiar experience, similar to engaging an employee or a live agent, and they can offer that experience in higher volumes. Conversational bots offer scaling—or the capability to perform equally well under an expanding workload—in ways that human can’t, assisting businesses to reach customers in a way they couldn’t before. For one, businesses have created 24/7/365 online presence through conversational bots.
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".
NBC Politics Bot allowed users to engage with the conversational agent via Facebook to identify breaking news topics that would be of interest to the network’s various audience demographics. After beginning the initial interaction, the bot provided users with customized news results (prioritizing video content, a move that undoubtedly made Facebook happy) based on their preferences.
Chatbots succeed when a clear understanding of user intent drives development of both the chatbot logic and the end-user interaction. As part of your scoping process, define the intentions of potential users. What goals will they express in their input? For example, will users want to buy an airline ticket, figure out whether a medical procedure is covered by their insurance plan or determine whether they need to bring their computer in for repair?
Creating a comprehensive conversational flow chart will feel like the greatest hurdle of the process, but know it's just the beginning. It's the commitment to tweaking and improving in the months and years following that makes a great bot. As Clara de Soto, cofounder of Reply.ai, told VentureBeat, "You're never just 'building a bot' so much as launching a 'conversational strategy' — one that's constantly evolving and being optimized based on how users are actually interacting with it."
Some brands already seem to be getting the balance right. A bot needs to capture a user's attention quickly and display a healthy curiosity about their new acquaintance, but too much curiosity can easily push them into creepy territory and turn people off. They have to display more than a basic knowledge of human conversational patterns, but they can't claim to be an actual human -- again, let's keep things from getting too creepy here.
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Pop-culture references to Skynet and a forthcoming “war against the machines” are perhaps a little too common in articles about AI (including this one and Larry’s post about Google’s RankBrain tech), but they do raise somewhat uncomfortable questions about the unexpected side of developing increasingly sophisticated AI constructs – including seemingly harmless chatbots.
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.
WeChat combines a chat-based interface with vast library of add-on features such as a mobile wallet, chat-based transactions, and chat-based media and interactive widgets, and exposes it all to businesses through a powerful API that enables businesses from mom and pop noodle shops to powerhouses such as Nike and Burberry to “friend” their customers and market to them in never before imaginable ways. Over 10MM businesses in China have WeChat accounts, and it is becoming increasingly popular for small businesses to only have a WeChat account, forgoing developing their own website or mobile app completely. US technology firms, in particular Facebook, are taking note.
Being an early adopter of a new channel can provide enormous benefits, but that comes with equally high risks. This is amplified within marketplaces like Amazon. Early adopters within Amazon's marketplace were able to focus on building a solid base of reviews for their products - a primary ranking signal - which meant that they'd create huge barriers to entry for competitors (namely because they were always showing up in the search results before them).
“HubSpot's GrowthBot is an all-in-one chatbot which helps marketers and sales people be more productive by providing access to relevant data and services using a conversational interface. With GrowthBot, marketers can get help creating content, researching competitors, and monitoring their analytics. Through Amazon Lex, we're adding sophisticated natural language processing capabilities that helps GrowthBot provide a more intuitive UI for our users. Amazon Lex lets us take advantage of advanced AI and machine learning without having to code the algorithms ourselves.”
In business-to-business environments, chatbots are commonly scripted and used to respond to frequently asked questions or perform simple, repetitive calls to action. In sales, for example, a chatbot may be a quick way for sales reps to get phone numbers. Chatbots can also be used in service departments, assisting service agents in answering repetitive requests. For example, a service rep might provide the chatbot with an order number and ask when the order was shipped. Generally, once a conversation gets too complex for a chatbot, the call or text window will be transferred to a human service agent.
Dan uses an example of a text to speech bot that a user might operate within a car to turn windscreen wipers on and off, and lights on and off. The users’ natural language query is processed by the conversation service to work out the intent and the entity, and then using the context, replies through the dialog in a way that the user can understand.
Love them or hate them, chatbots are here to stay. Chatbots have become extraordinarily popular in recent years largely due to dramatic advancements in machine learning and other underlying technologies such as natural language processing. Today’s chatbots are smarter, more responsive, and more useful – and we’re likely to see even more of them in the coming years.
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.