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Robots are speaking out: your chatbot would like to have a word with you

9th June 2016 Print

With today’s technology, it's no longer quite accurate to say that the future is already upon us. Sometimes it seems more like the future actually arrived yesterday and we’re just racing to catch up. That is certainly the case in the ecommerce sector, where new technology solutions arrive at a dizzying pace. And it’s just as surely the case when it comes to chatbots, the formerly esoteric and elusive technology that now can give ecommerce merchants of any size and scale previously unimaginable solutions to deliver customer service, increase site traffic and conversion rates, and engage customers more completely than ever before.

It’s not that chatbots are altogether new. The concept goes all the way back to a paper published in 1950 by the pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, and the first “Verbot” that met the criteria he laid out was developed in 1994. For many of us, though, it was Siri who introduced us in 2011 to the possibility - and the reality - of conversing with a robot. And in the commercial world, human-assisted bots have been handling some customer service functions for some large companies for nearly a decade. 

To the extent that chatbots have relied strictly on Artificial Intelligence to provide answers to user queries, they have up until now functioned essentially like a company website, an app, or a search engine. They could tell you what you want to know about a given topic, but they couldn't engage you in the way an actual human sales rep or customer service operator would. 

Today’s sophisticated chatbots can, using natural language processing (NLP) systems that enable a bot to enter into an actual dialogue with a human. That's one reason the world is about to experience another seismic shift, on the order of the changes brought about through personal computers, the internet, smartphones, or apps. The other reason is that Facebook has just joined the revolution.

Once again, Facebook is changing the game

When Facebook made its long-rumored and long-anticipated announcement in April that its hugely popular Messenger platform is becoming bot-friendly, it opened new doors for ecommerce merchants of all sizes. With the integration of chatbots and the social media giant’s instant messaging service (more than 900 million users strong and counting), Facebook just gave the technology a big push forward. 

Now, it’s even possible to store a chatbot from a favorite business to your Messenger contacts, simplifying things further. For businesses, that capability has an untold range of uses from traditional e-commerce functions such as taking orders or responding personally and in real time to customers’ questions to reaching out to engage them seamlessly to solidify and strengthen customer relations. Increasingly, chatbots are taking on the task of performing critically important tasks that have up until now required increased manpower at increased cost. 

According to nanorep, an industry leader in deploying digital solutions to streamline and enhance customer experience, chatbots are delivering a better, more personalized experience to the customer, who can now receive context relevant information in a convenient setting, and bypass frustrating menus and the sort of delays that come with downloading, installing and navigating a new app just to perform what really should be a simple transaction. 

Step into the future today

Of course, Facebook is far from the only instant messaging service to open itself up to chatbots, it’s just the biggest, and it is leading what experts predict is clearly the wave of the future. Whether you want to order a sandwich from your chatbot-friendly neighborhood deli or book a trip, manage the flight, and print your boarding pass through Facebook messenger, forward-thinking marketers are confident you will soon be doing it with the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger to reach the friendly chatbot standing by to make it happen, simply and efficiently.

The possibilities, in fact, are just now coming into sharp focus, and chatbots are likely to show up in corners of our lives we haven’t even anticipated yet. But if the recent history of technological development has taught us anything it’s that the future is never far away--and the businesses that are best prepared to meet it are bound to be the businesses with the brightest futures themselves.