MobileBeat 2016 wrapped last week after an insightful few days exploring the future of communication and technology. The industry’s biggest names came together to discuss how chatbots, artificial intelligence and messaging will redefine the communication landscape and potentially replace mobile apps, even websites.
This is the beginning of the ‘conversational web’ – where businesses and consumers engage in intuitive chat-based interactions. It provides an on-demand experience for consumers, allowing them to get the information they want, when they want it, using natural language.
Is this the future we need to get accustomed to – a world in which businesses rely on carefully constructed bots to engage customers and fans?
This topic was discussed in a recent article by John Brownlee for Fast Company’s design-focused site Co.Design. Brownlee assesses whether chatbots will be the future of design. What’s interesting though, is the discussion around conversational interfaces and how chatbots can more effectively convey personality for businesses compared to their traditional web sites or mobile apps.
This, as Brownlee highlights, is possibly the biggest indicator of the potential success of the conversational web:
“Branded websites tend to feel slick and impersonal, because they’re aimed at everyone. Chatbots can be custom-tailored to express different sides of a brand’s personality based on who they are talking to.”
The conversational web fosters meaningful connections
The proliferation of technology has raised concern that we, as humans, are losing our ability to connect with other people on a personal level. The more technology we create and use, the less we actually have to interact with each other
In the context of business to consumer interactions, this is particularly relevant. Because for the most part, contacting a business or brand by navigating their website, dialling the call center or emailing a customer service agent, has traditionally been a cold exchange.
Of course, there are brands that effectively convey emotion and personality through each of their customer communication channels. Denny’s, Zappos, Apple, and Southwest Airlines are examples of these brands. But for the vast majority of businesses, the ability to deliver a personalized, authentic experience remains an ongoing challenge.
Chatbots represent a huge opportunity for these businesses. Bots will enable them to deliver a rich customer experience by engaging customers through intuitive, text-based conversations.
Hashtag inventor and Uber developer expereince lead, Chris Messina, speaking at MobileBeat 2016. Image Credit: Michael O’Donnell for VentureBeat.
“This is why Microsoft has gone as far as to announce that the operating system of the future isn’t Windows, but “conversation as a platform.”
Move strategically into the bot rush
One challenge businesses will face in implementing chat bots, is finding the right balance between automation and traditional customer service. It needs to be said that rushing into bots may have adverse effect on the brand. There needs to be a strategic plan in place to identify the key areas where an automated bot can enhance the experience.
The keyword there being “enhance.”
As Brownlee points out, in the design sense, chat bots aren’t a solve for everything and they shouldn’t viewed upon as so. In fact, a poorly constructed bot can be considerably detrimental to a brand, as was the case with Microsoft’s chatbot Tay.
Microsoft’s chat bot Tay had to be taken down in less than 16 hours
The same thinking is also true in the world of customer communication. Bots can only get you so far. And they can have the opposite effect if constructed poorly. In these early stages of bot development, the key is to mix a sophisticated chat bot with highly-skilled customer service agents to provide a seamless, well-rounded experience for customers.
What this means for you
Automation is going to play an increasingly significant role in the business-to-consumer relationship. But remember that combining the speed and responsiveness of bots with the empathy and human touch of real live agents will allow you to deliver the most effective and comprehensive customer experience.
Pay attention to the changing landscape of customer communication. Identify the areas in your business where you can adapt to the new conversational paradigm and blend bots with traditional communication methods on a gradual basis.
You can read John Brownlee’s full piece on the future of designers and chat bots here.