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What Are Chatbots and Why Are They Important?

By November 1, 2016blog

First came PDAs, then came smartphones with apps (and a whole bunch of other stuff in between), and now chat bots.

What Are Chatbots?

Chatbots are computer programs that you “chat” with, for example within messaging apps. Imagine you wanted to buy something from an online retailer. Today you would go to their website, look around until you found what you wanted, and then place an order. But if said store had a chat bot, you would simply be able to send them a message that you are looking for a particular item, and the bot would respond. You would be having a conversation, if you will, with the store’s bot. Such an experience mimics that of going into an actual physical store and speaking with a salesperson.

Facebook and Microsoft, among others, are emerging as leaders in this space, dedicating serious resources so developers can create these bots. In the past six months, Facebook Messenger rolled out over 30,000 bots with more on the way. Facebook believes Messenger can become a primary channel for businesses to interact with their customers, consequently replacing 1-800 numbers with a mix of artificial intelligence and human intervention.

But it turns out that chatbots aren’t a new technology. The idea of a humans and machines interacting with one another isn’t a radical concept. Over several decades we’ve been trying to create machines that mimic human behavior. The idea of a chat bot within our messaging apps is actually quite logical given the history.

Today’s bots aren’t trying to pass for humans, unlike their predecessors, rather their job is to provide information or complete tasks for the humans they interact with. But wait, how does that work? But, how do these bots work? How do they know how to talk to people and answer questions? Isn’t that artificial intelligence?

There are two types of chatbots, one functions based on a set of rules, and the other more advanced version uses machine learning.

Chatbot that functions based on rules are very limited. It can only respond to very specific commands. If you say the wrong thing, it doesn’t know what you mean.

Chatbot that functions using machine learning, on the other hand, has an artificial brain AKA artificial intelligence. It understands language, not just commands. This bot continuously gets smarter as it learns from conversations it has with people.

It is the latter bots that will become “smarter” as more and more energy is spent on developing them.

Chatbots Are A Big Opportunity

I don’t know about you, but chat bots seem something futuristic…and well weird. Why should I care about them? Why are they getting so much attention?

For the first time ever people are using messenger apps more than they are using social networks. An increasing number of young adults are migrating from highly public social media networks like Facebook to private micro-networks like Facebook Messenger, Slack, WeChat, and Telegram for their to day-to-day communication.

It’s simple really, but for your business to thrive, you have to go where the people are…and more and more people are turning to messenger apps. And that is why chat bots are so important.

However, the biggest challenge messaging apps present are the billions of conversations happening behind closed doors. We are moving from public social networks to private micro-networks. conversations used to take place in public on Twitter and Facebook. We could quickly find potential customers through public profiles and understand their needs through the public conversations they had on social networks.

How can internet marketers adapt to this shift from the public to the private? Think about the telephone, and the rise of telemarketing. Using chatbots would be used in a similar manner, reaching out to one person or a small group. Furthermore, it is said that Facebook will allow ads in private messages, a 180 degree reversal from their current policy.

One important question to ask is, are customers ready to interact with chatbots? The proof is in the pudding, folks. According to new research, 89% of customers would prefer to engage with AI-driven virtual assistants to speed up finding information from companies. Chatbots can make it easy for consumers to get answers and information on their own terms, and with tools, they are already using.

What are your thoughts on a messenger centric web and chatbots?