Let’s imagine you are at an airport in Germany and have a connecting flight in 2 hours. But…when you get to the gate to board the flight, you are told by the desk executive that you cannot board it because of some visa issues. What do you do? You don’t have access to your airline office and there is nobody whom you can “talk to”. But wait…You simply open the airline’s website and using the chat window, you speak with Jessica from airlines support. She is extremely helpful – she asks you a few questions about your ticket, visa, and passport and voila, your issue is resolved. You happily board the flight. Would you bless Jessica in your mind for getting you out of the trouble? Wait, what if I tell you that there is no person with the name Jessica there and you just spoke to a Robot? Yes, welcome to the world of chatbots.
Industries such as tourism, hospitality, entertainment, media, etc. are always trying to leverage latest technologies to enhance the overall experiences for their customers. Chatbots, powered by AI, is the latest trend dominating the consumer industries. Brands in apparel and hospitality industries are leveraging chatbots and making them an inseparable part of their CRM systems to manage loyalty programs, redressal forums, product launches, etc.
Chatbots are capable of having engaging conversations – just like humans. This is allowing businesses to leverage reach out to a wider range of consumers in an inexpensive way.
Gartner predicts that chatbots will power 85% of all customer service interactions by the year 2020.
Chatbots offer true engagement beyond clicks and views. Along with the personalization of conversation, they help brands get insights directly from the consumers. All in all, they bring the brand’s personality to life. What more could one ask for?
Some real world examples of chatbots
Sephora has created a bot on Kik which shares beauty tips with teenagers. The bot first enquires what users are interested in learning about — eyes, skin, hair, nails, etc. — and only suggests relevant products, beauty tips, and tutorials.
- Domino’s is one of the early adopters of chatbots. It allows you to use Facebook Messenger to order a new pizza, build your own pizza, and also track your order.
- WeChat, an extremely popular app in China allows its users to perform a host of activities such as order food, buy movie tickets, do shopping, shop the latest collection from Burberry, track fitness progress, book an appointment with a doctor, and much more.
- HealthTap is a Facebook Messenger bot which answers all your health elated questions and also offers recommendations from accredited doctors.
- The KLM Royal Dutch Airlines uses bots to keep in touch with its passengers by sending them their flight information, check-in notifications, and boarding passes. The passengers can also ask their questions. Where the bot cannot answer any question, the passenger is connected with a human customer support agent.
Global trends such as overload of apps, popularity of mobile messenger, support for chatbots from Facebook, Microsoft etc., and reduced development costs are contributing to the global popularity of chatbots.
Facebook Messenger, which has 11,000 bots, has become the top choice for businesses for bot development. For many businesses, it is a good place to start out when taking a first look at developing Chatbots that live within Messenger apps.
For those worried about the needs of the mobile-first generation, the good news is that chatbots are mobile optimized. I would say that chatbots are particularly well suited for mobile where messaging forms an important component. More importantly, they are easy to implement – one can build a simple chatbot application within a matter of a few weeks.
Marketers are choosing to integrate chatbots across all social media platforms – it allows them to broadcast consistent brand messages across various platforms.
With different third-party chat bots, native bots, distribution channels, the chatbot ecosystem is increasingly becoming robust.
As someone helping several brands with their technology innovations, I have been involved in the design and development of chatbots. I found a new open source technology called AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language) particularly useful for chatbot development.
AIML is based on XML dialect for processing NLP (Natural Language Processing). AIML set was released under the GNU GPL, and most of the AIML interpreters are offered under a free or open source license. AIML can be uses in building applications and bots where NLP, Sentiment Analysis, text matching, pattern matching concepts are required. AIML interpreters are available in Java, Ruby, Python, C++, C#, Pascal, and other.
As we see from the examples above, large organizations including Disney, CNN, WSJ have already adopted chatbots for connecting with their consumers. The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), a financial services company, uses Luvo, a chatbot, to help their employees in answering business queries quickly and easily. As technology evolves, we are sure the bots will get ‘smarter’ and more ‘humanlike’ in their analyses and responses.