Human beings are inherently social; they need to converse with each other, share thoughts and convey their feelings to survive. In the good old days, when conversations could only happen face to face, there were some innate inconveniences to it.
Then when MSN messenger came along with its emojis, it was no less than a miracle. But now where there is a Siri or a Cortana at the beck and call of users, chatbots are certainly the next big thing.
So if you are wondering what these chatbots are, what can they do and want to learn the basics of building one, I will urge you to read more.
>> For a detailed understanding of chatbots and a step-by-step guide to building one: Download Complete Beginner’s Guide to chatbots
Understanding Chatbots: What are they?
Chatbots are your mechanised pals, powered by a set of rules and some artificial intelligence, that you can interact with via a chat interface. Essentially they can be looked at, as automated systems that reside inside your messenger apps (Facebook, Slack, In-app Messenger of your apps etc.). They are designed to imitate human conversations and carry out pre-defined actions, based on voice commands and/or text inputs.
How well they do it, can be assessed by passing it through the Turing Test which tests the bot’s ability to successfully impersonate a person.
Chatbots and their uses:
Soon there will be a chatbot for everything, from pizzas to flowers and for every other noun. Does that sound like a far cry to you?
Well, Gartner recently reported that by 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human.
The usage of chatbots is especially beneficial if you are in e-tailing. That’s because consumers are increasingly using chat to find and select products and services, and to complete the payment process, all without having to call, email or even visit a company’s website.
Here are a couple of areas where chatbots may prove to be of most help:
Bots as sidekicks to customer support agents: Customer support bots can assist their human counterparts by handling simpler tasks and queries so that agents can focus on things that only humans can do.
>> Kommunicate is a smart messaging software for customer support that helps businesses to leverage the power of bots to ensure 24*7 support availability.
Bots for travel concierge: These bots can assist you in making your itinerary, by first enquiring about your preferences and then fetching the best results based on it.
Chatbots as Shopping assistants: Offering advice over chat makes it easier for your customers to make a purchase. Chatbots have allowed businesses to cater to the customer’s need for instant gratification in a number of ways:
- Concierge Bots like Operator, enables users to browse curated products and make purchases.
- H&M’s bot learns from each customer’s preference by combining data, and then makes personalized recommendations in a multiple choice fashion.
As you can see the possibilities are endless with chatbots. It is possible to build anything imaginable. But how to build one, especially considering the fact that it is a completely new technology with limited documentation?
Types of bots and the steps to build one:
Broadly speaking there are two types of chatbots:
- Chatbots that function based on rules: These bots work on a specific set of rules, and anything that comes beyond its purview, it fails to act upon.
- Chatbots that run on machine learning: Powered by AI, these bots have a brain of their own, which gives them the capability of processing and acting upon natural human language.
Before you set out to build a bot, it is important to note that the tricky thing about building a bot is more of a user experience issue, and not writing codes.
So in order to be successful at it, one needs to find the answers to 3 very important questions:
- What’s the user’s goal?
- What’s the bot’s goal?
- How to handle unexpected input?
Finding answers to these questions and designing the conversational flow based on it, will give your bot a human outlook and safeguard it against unforeseen situations.
So the first step in building a chatbot is to identify the problem and design a conversational flow to solve it. The subsequent steps are:
- Choosing the platform where the bot will reside (Facebook Messenger, Slack, In-app Messenger etc.)
- Server setup to run the bot from
- Choosing the service to use for building the bot
>> For a practical illustration on how to build a bot, visit the article on Beginner’s Guide to creating Chatbots on Dialogflow.
Chatbots have heavily influenced a few industries such as travel and hospitality, customer support, e-commerce, banking and market research. Essentially, chatbots can be used at places where short interaction and highly repetitive tasks are present. Which in turn do not require complex cognitive abilities. Such tasks may include filling a form or giving recommendations.
The best bet would be hybrid solutions where a combination of human and artificial intelligence is leveraged. The initial interaction and routine tasks can be handled by the chatbots and humans can take over if and when the queries past the level of cognizance, which a bot is trained to solve, is surpassed.
In the longer run, one can assume the AI to be smart enough to take over the higher level tasks thoroughly. But that case is still a far-fetched in current times.
Now all that being said, answer to the earlier question that whether there can truly be a chatbot for everything, is still uncertain. But it can be said with certainty, that chatbots have entered our lives and are leaving no time soon. They are still in their infancy with a lot of challenges to be addressed, but they have the potential to create a paradigm shift in the way businesses communicate with customers.
Satadeep Biswas currently leads Marketing at Applozic Inc. Data-driven by nature he specialises in conversion marketing for SaaS and online businesses. If he is not at work, you will find him rooting for his favourite football team. You can find more articles by Satadeep here.