Chatbots have come a long way in a short space of time, already appearing on the front pages and social media sites of many global brands and businesses. But there’s a long way to go for the chatty fellows, as recent tech trends can attest to.
There are around 2.5 million apps on the iOS app store today, after almost 10 years of operation. It took eighteen months for Apple’s store to reach 100,000 apps. While there’s no hard launch date for chatbots in the market, estimates suggest there are well over 200,000 bots in existence helping businesses talk to their customers.
They are starting to appear en masse on Facebook Messenger, with over 100,000 on that platform alone (and that figure is almost a year old). The social media company launched its Chatbot feature in April 2016, so perhaps two years? From this, it is fair to say that apps and chatbots are growing at similar rates.
And, many websites now offer a charming “ding” sound to alert visitors to the presence of a chatbot and they are a growing feature in apps and other communications tools. They are appearing everywhere, not just locked in behind one walled-garden store.
The likes of research firm Gartner believe that by 2020, chatbots will be responsible for handling some 85% of customer interactions. But while it took a long time for apps to take off for businesses, most companies can see the value and return on investment from using a chatbot.
However, for a growing number, a simple script is insufficient to meet increasingly complex needs. Companies already want chatbots to handle the whole customer experience. For example, a travel agent will find it more efficient if a customer tells the travel chatbot when and where they want to go to.
If the bot can find the most efficient route, budget or package in seconds, purchases and bookings can be made then and there, vastly reducing the amount of time this exchange has taken in the past.
Helping the bots in the process are the likes of natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI). These expand the conversation from a basic script, help the service better understand the needs of the customer and can take a more proactive stance. NLP helps by understanding what the user is asking, looking for keywords or stop phrases that can guide the conversation or move it a specific helpful section.
Free-to-use chatbot service SnatchBot has just added an NLP feature to its bot, while the company's CEO has been laying out his company’s vision to The Telegraph about the future of the technology. “If you can chat to someone within Facebook Messenger, say, and answer their queries, sell items, make bookings etc, that is clearly going to be the future.”