The term “chatbot” is on its way to become a household concept sooner than anyone has expected. Although chatbots have been around nearly three decades, their promise have just recently started to accelerate in the media. The emergence of mobile devices equipped with voice recognition apps contributed to this upsurge. Also, a more diluted name “digital assistant” helped people’s perception. However, the user acceptance bar is still very high with chatbots unlike many other applications. Is the science and technology finally caught up to pass this bar? Here are the six reasons that summarize the gold rush nature of the chatbot business.
1- THE HOLLYWOOD EFFECT
Talking computers have been in the movies since the first few episodes of Star Trek. An intelligent computer, that talks with a sexy voice, knowing everything possible to know, advising us what to do, has been the central theme of almost every science fiction movie. Finally, we hit a point where it has become such an expected functionality, that less than a perfect talking robot is unthinkable. Hollywood effect is real, and shapes consumer expectation perhaps beyond what is usually acceptable from a computer program. We are very accustomed to Windows OS messing up in the middle of an important work, but we will not tolerate less than a perfect chatbot. WE ARE LONG OVERDUE FOR SOME REAL LIFE EXAMPLES OF TALKING COMPUTERS THAT DELIVER SENSIBLE CONVERSATIONS, THANKS TO HOLLYWOOD.
2- BIG PLAYERS ENTERING THE GAME
Do you remember Microsoft’s Ms. Dewey? This chatbot with nice graphical interface was released almost a decade ago and failed quickly afterwards. Perhaps she was too early for her time. Nevertheless, Microsoft showed its soft underbelly by proving that they could release high tech products without actually understanding the challenges behind the technology and its underlying science. A decade later, Cortana is not any better, making people wonder what did Microsoft learn during the last decade? Almost to the point, another blunder with Tay Twitter app does not seem to dampen any spirits in Microsoft. Chatbot technology has become a shameless trial-and-error game, maybe because Apple could stomach Siri, a seriously limited gadget, a joking material. We can add Amazon’s Echo to the list, and now Facebook’s API release. At least, Facebook is moving more cautiously by spreading the responsibility to independent developers. IBM’s stake in this game is only to be seen in TV commercials. There is no public launch of any chatbot to avoid public scrutiny. Google is also experimenting with chatbots without a convincing public demo. Despite the blunders and overpromised hype, the entrance of the big players into the Chatbot game is a positive development. SOME OF THE BIG PLAYERS ARE TAKING THE RISK OF PUBLIC MOCKERY AND DAMAGE TO THEIR BRAND JUST TO BE IN THE CHATBOT WORLD. That means the gold rush is on!
3- HUGE POTENTIAL IN CUSTOMER SERVICE
We may have landed on the moon several times, but the state of the customer service today is based on sheer human labor. The nature of this job is boring, repetitious, and stressful, not much different than the rowers in this Charlton Heston movie. If we round up helpdesk, tech support, and corporate training industries, we are talking about $50 billion market segment that is a sitting duck for computerized automation. Only if the computers can talk and solve problems adequately.
THE CHATBOT USAGE IN CUSTOMER SERVICE MARKET IS LESS THAN 0.01% INDICATING AN UNTAPPED COMMERCIAL TERRITORY. The current suppliers are half-dozen startups none of which is worth mentioning at this stage. There are, however, chat-line providers that connect visitors to human agents. Obviously, chatting live with human agents does not change the human labor requirement, its mathematics remain the same. Therefore, we should not confuse chat-line technology with chatbot technology although they can complement each other.
4- ROBOTS AND SMART TOYS ARE ON THE RISE
There is an unstoppable wave of robotic products coming to the market. Led by Japan, and South Korea these robots can do incredible tricks, except for less than decent conversation skills. CHATBOTS ARE A NATURAL FIT TO ROBOTICS. Therefore, a skillful chatbot technology can flourish in this market segment. You may run into Connie, Hilton’s new robot concierge with primitive skills. IBM’s Watson was not impressive with this example, yet it still showed us what to expect in the near future. Then, there are vehicles that can talk to its driver. In-car voice recognition still has some way to go. However, a few automakers are taking the lead in creating in-car interfaces that are easy to use. Among the favorites are Acura and Honda, Infiniti, Mercedes, and Ford. It would make sense to keep your hands on the steering wheel, and eyes on the road while you talk to a chatbot for various purposes. But this is only the opening act. There is a huge realm of industrial machines. Operating each one of them require expertise and knowledge, and chatting with them could improve safety and enhance efficiency. This list goes on and on. Bottom line, every machine can talk to humans sometime in the future if it makes commercial sense.
5- CHATBOTS CAN BE A NEW FORM OF SOCIAL DIGITAL PRESENCE
It all started with a Website concept in 1990s. A person could have his/her own Website. Then, it was automated by MySpace. Then came the personal blogs. Social networks like Facebook and Linkedin, followed by YouTube and Twitter, they all presented a new form of digital presence of one’s self image on the Internet. Now, what if you had your own chatbot?
Your chatbot could represent who you are, your skills, perhaps the products you sell, services you offer. Is that possible? The answer is yes, of course. CHATBOTS WILL BECOME THE ULTIMATE FORM OF SELF EXPRESSION, AND PERSONAL PROMOTION. The only stumbling block on the way is the accuracy of chatbot technology and ability to automate creation. Personal chatbots are likely to appear in the celebrity circles first, then spread to professionals like lawyers, doctors, dentists, and financial advisors. The commercial aspect of this development is strongly related to the c-commerce potential, which is my next point below.
6- CHAT IS C-COMMERCE, A NEW CHANNEL FOR SALES
Sending messages has become a landmark behavior in the timeline of human evolution. Billions of messages are sent daily across the globe. Facebook Messenger, Google Chat, Skype, Instagram, WhatsApp, Slate, and many other platforms allow sending and receiving messages, none of which has been commercialized. CHATBOTS ARE THE NEW SALES CHANNEL AND DEFINE C-COMMERCE.
Facebook’s Zuckerberg recently said “You never have to call 1-800 FLOWERS anymore” referring to Facebook’s Chatbot APIs mainly targeted for ecommerce and retail operations over the social network. Perhaps, we will remember Facebook down the road as being the visionary company to open up this new channel.
Out of 6 reasons listed above, the C-commerce virtue of chatbots is perhaps the strongest argument for expecting a gold rush. Sales dialogue is relatively easier for chatbots to handle, and there is money in the electronic commerce world floating back and forth. C-commerce is likely to be the fastest realization of ROI in this segment.
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