"Hi, Jonathan! I'm your Google Assistant. I can help you find what you need and get things done!"
- Google Assistant
Have you ever chatted with customer support on the internet, and been fascinated with how quick they answered your questions? Well, you might have been chatting with a robot. A preposterous statement 20-years ago, but very much a fact today. However, chatbots have existed in concept ever since the 1950s when Alan Turing proposed his now famous Turing Test. The test is designed to see if a robot, or cognitive intelligence, can be perceived as a human through chatting. If you own an iPhone you might have encountered Siri, Apple's personal assistant. It's a bot that aims to answer a question logically or solve a given task. It might be regarded as intelligent, but on the other hand, it is still possible to distinguish its responses from a human being. Other personal assistants include Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Microsoft's Cortana.
In addition to these personal assistants, you might have encountered chatbots when making reservations in hotels and restaurants, when booking airplane tickets, marking dates on a calendar, or having information displayed to you. The personal assistants are still the most recognizable form of chatbot that you have interacted with.
"I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that"
- HAL 9000
What is a chatbot really? It is a robot, but not the ones typically presented in popular culture with a physical presence and metallic appearances. A bot in this context, is artificial intelligence realized through computer software, which performs tasks without the help of a human. A chatbot, more specifically, simulates a conversation with a human being through natural language processing. This means that it i.e. receives questions or messages in English, processes the query and responds in English. This simulation of conversation means that a chatbot can be classified as a "conversational agent". Chatbots are most commonly used in customer service today, typically taking on the role of Tier-1 support personnel; and as personal assistants.
"Call me an ambulance"
"From now on, I'll call you 'An Ambulance'. OK?"
Chatbots are divided into two schools - rule-based chatbots and AI-based/self-learner chatbots. In a rule-based approach, the bot answers questions based on rules it has been trained on. If a question does not match with the trained rules, then the chatbot will have a hard time answering the question. In a strict customer support environment, they might excel and reduce cost.
If the chatbot is to answer more complex queries, it must relate to an artificial intelligence, where the bot gradually learns from the interactions it has with the end-users. These bots can be used to map intent and context with intelligent responses. This learning and training of machines are called Machine Learning; but it is still in its infancy. In the coming years, when the technology reaches maturity, you might not be able to distinguish a conversational agent from a human being.
"I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you."
- HAL 9000
A development over the recent years, have seen textual communication becoming the preferred form of personal interaction. It has gradually become more socially acceptable to send instant messages to businesses to get information instead of calling them or meeting them physically. Just consider the banking industry, where branches are closing as the bank gains a more digital presence. People increasingly prefer chatting, even over the mobile applications that took the world by storm when smartphones were released. Not-so-fun fact: a recent study found that more than 50% of all mobile users in the U.S. download zero apps each month.
Traditional user interfaces tend to not be memorable enough. Entering chatbots: they can be programmed with traits, emotions, and values; meaning that they can establish a personal connection and relation with the end user. They can respond to user intention and context, instead of bombarding the user with unnecessary information. This entitles that a chatbot can build a unique and engaging personality that the end user can and most likely will remember. In the past, personal relations were crucial for continued customer satisfaction and the survival of small businesses, and chatbots can bring this relation back to your brand.
"Hello, is it me you're looking for?"
- Lionel Richie
Information, information, information. Almost all aspects of digital life are characterised by acquiring information in a quick and precise matter. You might have listened to many hours of music while being on hold with customer support or being transferred to different departments better suited to answer your questions. A chatbot handles this by being able to quickly search a vast abundance of data and provide the exact information that your customer needs. Through filtering and sentence analysis, a chatbot can filter out the relevant information and only show the customer what they need.
"I'll be back"
- The Terminator
Do you have people available to answer customer queries day and night? No? As you might suspect, a chatbot (assumption: it lives in an online environment), can answer your customers queries even outside office hours. This means that your chatbot can support and cater the increasingly higher customer expectations.
Although chatbots and artificial intelligence have been around for a few years, the technology is still in its infancy, but that shouldn't limit you from investing in a chatbot. It can increase the effectiveness of information gathering, brand recognition, and personal relations. Through a 24/7 availability, they are always ready to interact with your customers, or even internal employees looking for information. They can do senseless tasks, and aide your users in accomplishing certain goals. What are you waiting for? Bring back personal relationships with your customers by investing in chatbots today!
"Just do it!"
- Nike & Shia LaBeouf