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Nick Bennett

Strategy Director

Rise of the Bots

Digital Marketing and technology have brought both advantages and disadvantages to our everyday lives - some of which polarise opinion (reading this in bed - tut, tut!)

One thing we have all changed though is our attitude toward the present. Our need for instant information, in some cases, our demands are at a level where we expect our connected devices to think on our behalf and tell us what is next, or is happening.

This demand for ‘now’ and the rise of tools like Siri and Cortana - (voice-based intelligent assistants that speak back to you upon voice commands) has triggered a big rise in the number of Bots & Chat Bots, something we last saw back in the late 1990s.

But what are they, why should you know more about them and how could they help your business? We have produced this handy little guide to help you out.

What is a Chat Bot?

Essentially, bots are artificially intelligent respondents that you can hold a conversation with, to help answer your queries. In most cases, they are built to help you accomplish tasks in a natural, conversational manner that not only feels comfortable but also gets things done faster. The intention of most bot creators is that the exchange should feel fundamentally human based in tone, grammar and style.

Let me give you an example: Looking to take a loved one out for a romantic dinner to celebrate an anniversary. The options are endless and you are too time poor to check reservations of your favourite restaurants. Well, now you can simply chat to that company, through your messenger app, at your own time and convenience - pick a time slot, apply special instructions and even have a tab set-up for arrival to pay for drinks.

In addition to this, it is definitely true that companies have seen a spike in activity around messenger, aimed in particular at customer service organisations, which offer up an endless list of opportunity. Hilton is just one of these, with many more sure to follow.

These are just 2 examples - the same can be applied to all manner of business’ - both in B2B and B2C environments where your customer may have a query and desire to arrange a final solution, without needing to speak to a human being to learn, process and secure the necessary information.

Why should I care about this and how does it help my business?

The first key principle to remember about Bots is that they don't do anything that you couldn't do yourself on a website or app, or by chatting or calling up a real person. However, they can do certain elements faster, and at minimal expense to the site or service running the bot. That's a win-win situation on both ends of the transaction, and the conversational flow might make frustrating tasks seem relatively easy. Also, as we live in such an instantaneous customer service driven age, where competitors are a mouse click away, we must all adhere to providing info on the levels and expectation of the demanding customer. This is something that will most likely to increase.

What is perhaps most exciting about bots is that many online platforms are opening up the system to developers of all sorts via APIs, letting all manner of stores, sites, and services create custom bots to help and inform you in different ways. Two great examples that can be seen are SkyScanner & Manchester City FC - who have both recently launched and developed bots to be used on the Facebook messenger. With all the different platforms opening up, technically there could be a bot for nearly any web interaction before long, kind of like how apps surged and became ubiquitous about 5 years ago.

Where am I likely to see Bots and are they all the same?

Facebook was not the first provider to be offering bots - you may have also heard of Kik and Slack. However, with the recent launch of the Messenger Platform in beta, it is most definitely leading the charge. In browsing to write this piece, I quickly found bots that serve you custom-targeted news stories and quick-hit blurbs in chat. There are others that will let you book trips & order clothes. Strange as it may seem there is even an animated cat bot that serves you weather reports!

And what if things get too complicated or frustrating for the bot to handle? The bot will know it’s limitations, but there is already smart thinking to provide services which will seamlessly loop in a human to take over - such as Facebook. The Messenger Platform revealed this month is an evolution of the Facebook M pilot, which debuted that very feature: the ability for mix of bot and human responses as needed. You may never know the difference.

Such is the dominance of Facebook messenger and the significant number of users, it is where you'll probably see the biggest push and where we would urge you explore to add one yourself.

Why now?

Despite the sudden popularity, bots really aren't anything new. Companies have been using crude versions of the same principles on their websites for quite some years. Have you ever gone to an online help section only to chat with what's clearly not a real person? Yes, sometimes it's a robotic person you're speaking to, but with increasing frequency, it's a machine you're communicating back and forth with.

As of late, though, we're starting to see the rise of a different kind of bot. These bots are refined, and don't just answer questions - they help you interact with the world, all at a simple prompt, and sometimes without one at all. Ever had Google tell you the latest score of your favourite team, or how quick your journey to work is going to be - this is a bot at work. Now leverage that, with an input of credit card information for one payment at a favourite retailer, the bot can use it again, eliminating the need for you to enter it every time you want to pay at that retailer.

The key to these bots, is of course replicating that genuine feel of connection between the user and the bot. It has to embody the personality of the brand and its public face of values. In addition to that, it needs to assess its conversational tone and language across a wide range of conversation topics. Our approach to UX and UI allows us to outline these benefits and approaches to clients, still enabling the interconnectivity that is sought. Fast Code design explore this in much more depth here.

What’s Next?

Perhaps the best way to think of Bots is as an App of say 5 years ago. The market saw saturation levels of app development - across a diverse range of needs, wants, and desires. However, the vast majority of them sat gathering dust both on the digital shelf of iTunes and Google Play, but also in your use with it (should it have been lucky enough to be downloaded in the first place).

This behavioural strand outlined that over 75% of our time spent on smartphones is using the App’s. Most notably, Facebook messenger - prompting smart calls to consolidate what exists on your device. By opening up their API, they are truly embracing Bots to work within their system on your behalf, meaning is the utopian one-stop-shop for your thumb when using your phone or tablet.

Due to the fact that messaging Apps allow us to communicate in such a simplistic fashion, it is fair to say their existence will not be likely threatened for the considerable future. With the desire for downloading new apps on the significant decline, perhaps it is smart to go where the crowds already are.

The Impact for you?

Simplifying the mobile experience has a nice ring for customers, but your business also stands to benefit from bots as well. Getting attention and awareness is still a vast problem in the crowded online space. However, a bot will give you a whole new way to reach customers through an app that most of them probably already have and use frequently. Instead of having to spend significant money in making an app, you can spend significantly less for us to develop a text-based bot that will work across multiple operating systems on apps used by hundreds of millions of people,

Bots are back and here to stay, they do genuinely offer an exciting opportunity and the possibilities are endless and in many respects, they offer a level-playing field, and significant advantage to the early adopters - and delivering a digital experience that has a positive impact on our everyday lives.