In our work at ZipfWorks building and scaling intelligent shopping platforms and applications, we pay close attention to emerging trends impacting digital commerce such as chatbots and mobile commerce. As this nascent trend towards a more conversational commerce ecosystem unfolds at a dizzying pace, we felt it would be useful to take a step back and look at the major initiatives and forces shaping this trend and compiled them here in this report. We’ve applied some of these concepts in our current project Dealspotr, to help more shoppers save more money through intelligent use of technology and social product design.
When considering potential uses, first assess the impact on resources. There are two options here: replacement or empowerment. Replacement is clearly easier as you don’t need to consider integration with existing processes and you can build from scratch. Empowerment enhances an existing process by making it more flexible, accommodating, accessible and simple for users.
Back to our earlier example, if a bot doesn’t know the word trousers and a user corrects the input to pants, the bot will remember the connection between those two words in the future. The more words and connections that a bot is exposed to, the smarter it gets. This process is similar to that of human learning. Our capacity for memory and synthesis is part of what makes us unique, and we’re teaching our best tricks to bots.
Once the chatbot is ready and is live interacting with customers, smart feedback loops can be implemented. During the conversation when customers ask a question, chatbot smartly give them a couple of answers by providing different options like “Did you mean a,b or c”. That way customers themselves matches the questions with actual possible intents and that information can be used to retrain the machine learning model, hence improving the chatbot’s accuracy.
What if you’re creating a bot for a major online clothing retailer? For starters, the bot will require a greeting (“How can I help you?”) as well as a process for saying its goodbyes. In between, the bot needs to respond to inputs, which could range from shopping inquiries to questions about shipping rates or return policies, and the bot must possess a script for fielding questions it doesn’t understand.
Kik is one of the most popular chat apps among teens with 275M MAUs and 40% of those are in the 13–24 year old demographic. In April, Kik launched its own bot store with 16 launch partners including Sephora, H&M, Vine, the Weather Channel, and Funny or Die. Using Kik’s bots currently feel like using the internet in 1994, very rough around the edges and limited functionality / usefulness. However, we’ll see how their API and bots progress over time, Kik’s popularity among an attractive demographic might convince some brands to invest in the platform.
In a traditional application, the user interface (UI) is a series of screens. A single app or website can use one or more screens as needed to exchange information with the user. Most applications start with a main screen where users initially land and provide navigation that leads to other screens for various functions like starting a new order, browsing products, or looking for help.
“Major shifts on large platforms should be seen as an opportunities for distribution. That said, we need to be careful not to judge the very early prototypes too harshly as the platforms are far from complete. I believe Facebook’s recent launch is the beginning of a new application platform for micro application experiences. The fundamental idea is that customers will interact with just enough UI, whether conversational and/or widgets, to be delighted by a service/brand with immediate access to a rich profile and without the complexities of installing a native app, all fueled by mature advertising products. It’s potentially a massive opportunity.” — Aaron Batalion, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners
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.
1. AI-based: these ones really rely on training and are fairly complicated to set up. You train the chatbot to understand specific topics and tell your users which topics your chatbot can engage with. AI chatbots require all sorts of fall back and intent training. For example, let’s say you built a doctor chatbot (off the top of my head because I am working on one at the moment), it would have to understand that “i have a headache” and “got a headache” and “my head hurts” are the same intent. The user is free to engage and the chatbot has to pick things up.
Say you want to build a bot that tells the current temperature. The dialog for the bot only needs coding to recognize and report the requested location and temperature. To do this, the bot needs to pull data from the API of the local weather service, based on the user’s location, and to send that data back to the user—basically, a few lines of templatable code and you’re done.
Es gibt auch Chatbots, die gar nicht erst versuchen, wie ein menschlicher Chatter zu wirken (daher keine Chatterbots), sondern ähnlich wie IRC-Dienste nur auf spezielle Befehle reagieren. Sie können als Schnittstelle zu Diensten außerhalb des Chats dienen, oder auch Funktionen nur innerhalb ihres Chatraums anbieten, z. B. neu hinzugekommene Chatter mit dem Witz des Tages begrüßen.
“The chat space is sort of the last unpolluted space [on your phone],” said Sam Mandel, who works at the startup studio Betaworks and is also building a weather bot for Slack called Poncho. “It’s like the National Park of people’s online experience. Right now, the way people use chat services, it’s really a good private space that you control.” (That, of course, could quickly go sour if early implementations are too spammy or useless.)
Ultimately, only time will tell how effective the likes of Facebook Messenger will become in the long term. As more and more companies look to use chatbots within the platform, the greater the frequency of messages that individual users will receive. This could result in Facebook (and other messaging platforms) placing stricter restrictions on usage, but until then I'd recommend testing as much as possible.
User message. Once authenticated, the user sends a message to the bot. The bot reads the message and routes it to a natural language understanding service such as LUIS. This step gets the intents (what the user wants to do) and entities (what things the user is interested in). The bot then builds a query that it passes to a service that serves information, such as Azure Search for document retrieval, QnA Maker for FAQs, or a custom knowledge base. The bot uses these results to construct a response. To give the best result for a given query, the bot might make several back-and-forth calls to these remote services.
If you ask any marketing expert, customer engagement is simply about talking to the customer and reeling them in when the time’s right. This means being there for the user whenever they look for you throughout their lifecycle and therein lies the trick: How can you be sure you’re there at all times and especially when it matters most to the customer?
By 2022, task-oriented dialog agents/chatbots will take your coffee order, help with tech support problems, and recommend restaurants on your travel. They will be effective, if boring. What do I see beyond 2022? I have no idea. Amara’s law says that we tend to overestimate technology in the short term while underestimating it in the long run. I hope I am right about the short term but wrong about AI in 2022 and beyond! Who would object against a Starbucks barista-bot that can chat about weather and crack a good joke?