Since Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik, Slack, and a growing number of bot-creation platforms came online, developers have been churning out chatbots across industries, with Facebook’s most recent bot count at over 33,000. At a CRM technologies conference in 2011, Gartner predicted that 85 percent of customer engagement would be fielded without human intervention. Though a seeming natural fit for retail and purchasing-related decisions, it doesn’t appear that chatbot technology will play favorites in the coming few years, with uses cases being promoted in finance, human resources, and even legal services.
Developed to assist Nigerian students preparing for their secondary school exam, the University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), SimbiBot is a chatbot that uses past exam questions to help students prepare for a variety of subjects. It offers multiple choice quizzes to help students test their knowledge, shows them where they went wrong, and even offers tips and advice based on how well the student is progressing.
Prashant Sridharan, Twitter’s global director of developer relations says: “I’ve seen a lot of hyperbole around bots as the new apps, but I don’t know if I believe that. I don’t think we’re going to see this mass exodus of people stopping building apps and going to build bots. I think they’re going to build bots in addition to the app that they have or the service they provide,” as reported by re/code.
“Bots go bust” — so went the first of the five AI startup predictions in 2017 by Bradford Cross, countering some recent excitement around conversational AI (see for example O’Reilly’s “Why 2016 is shaping up to be the Year of the Bot”). The main argument was that social intelligence, rather than artificial intelligence is lacking, rendering bots utilitarian and boring.
This is the big one. We worked with one particular large publisher (can’t name names unfortunately, but hundreds of thousands of users) in two phases. We initially released a test phase that was sort of a “catch all”. Anyone could message a broad keyword to their bot and start a campaign. Although we had a huge number of users come in, engagement was relatively average (87% open rate and 27.05% click-through rate average over the course of the test). Drop off here was fairly high, about 3.14% of users had unsubscribed by the end of the test.
Facebook Messenger chat bots are a way to communicate with the companies and services that you use directly through Messenger. The goal of chat bots is to minimize the time you would spend waiting on hold or sifting through automated phone menus. By using keywords and short phrases, you can get information and perform tasks all through the Messenger app. For example, you could use bots to purchase clothing, or check the weather by asking the bot questions. Bot selection is limited, but more are being added all the time. You can also interact with bots using the Facebook website.
The front-end app you develop will interact with an AI application. That AI application—usually a hosted service—is the component that interprets user data, directs the flow of the conversation and gathers the information needed for responses. You can then implement the business logic and any other components needed to enable conversations and deliver results.
The biggest benefit of having a conversational AI solution is the instant response rate. Answering queries within an hour translates into 7X increase in the likelihood of converting a lead. Customers are more likely to talk about a negative experience than a positive one. So nipping a negative review right in the bud is going to help improve your product’s brand standing.
All of these conversational technologies employ natural-language-recognition capabilities to discern what the user is saying, and other sophisticated intelligence tools to determine what he or she truly needs to know. These technologies are beginning to use machine learning to learn from interactions and improve the resulting recommendations and responses.
A very common request that we get is people want to practice conversation, said Duolingo's co-founder and CEO, Luis von Ahn. The company originally tried pairing up non-native speakers with native speakers for practice sessions, but according to von Ahn, "about three-quarters of the people we try it with are very embarrassed to speak in a foreign language with another person."
Efforts by servers hosting websites to counteract bots vary. Servers may choose to outline rules on the behaviour of internet bots by implementing a robots.txt file: this file is simply text stating the rules governing a bot's behaviour on that server. Any bot that does not follow these rules when interacting with (or 'spidering') any server should, in theory, be denied access to, or removed from, the affected website. If the only rule implementation by a server is a posted text file with no associated program/software/app, then adhering to those rules is entirely voluntary – in reality there is no way to enforce those rules, or even to ensure that a bot's creator or implementer acknowledges, or even reads, the robots.txt file contents. Some bots are "good" – e.g. search engine spiders – while others can be used to launch malicious and harsh attacks, most notably, in political campaigns.
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?
In a procedural conversation flow, you define the order of the questions and the bot will ask the questions in the order you defined. You can organize the questions into logical modules to keep the code centralized while staying focused on guiding the conversational. For example, you may design one module to contain the logic that helps the user browse for products and a separate module to contain the logic that helps the user create a new order.
Of course, each messaging app has its own fine print for bots. For example, on Messenger a brand can send a message only if the user prompted the conversation, and if the user doesn't find value and opt to receive future notifications within those first 24 hours, there's no future communication. But to be honest, that's not enough to eradicate the threat of bad 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.
If the success of WeChat in China is any sign, these utility bots are the future. Without ever leaving the messaging app, users can hail a taxi, video chat a friend, order food at a restaurant, and book their next vacation. In fact, WeChat has become so ingrained in society that a business would be considered obsolete without an integration. People who divide their time between China and the West complain that leaving this world behind is akin to stepping back in time.
“I’ve seen a lot of hyperbole around bots as the new apps, but I don’t know if I believe that,” said Prashant Sridharan, Twitter’s global director of developer relations. “I don’t think we’re going to see this mass exodus of people stopping building apps and going to build bots. I think they’re going to build bots in addition to the app that they have or the service they provide.”
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.
Logging. Log user conversations with the bot, including the underlying performance metrics and any errors. These logs will prove invaluable for debugging issues, understanding user interactions, and improving the system. Different data stores might be appropriate for different types of logs. For example, consider Application Insights for web logs, Cosmos DB for conversations, and Azure Storage for large payloads. See Write directly to Azure Storage.
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".