Bots are here to stay, but what are they?

Categories Tech for Non-Tech
The next trend/buzzword is the emergence of bot/chatbot thanks to companies such as KiK, Facebook, and Slack. The popularity of bots is due to the need for brands to interact with the messaging channel, which has emerged due to the tendency of younger generations to spend most of their online interactions through this medium.

What is a bot?

A bot is software designed to interact and automate tasks, the rapid emergence of bots has centered around chatbots which simulate conversations. These bots are designed to simulate human conversation, but have not reached massive levels of sophistication.

History

Bots are nothing new. Developers have scripted bots in some form for the past 50 years, usually running off a rudimentary script. Most of us have interacted with bots before this current iteration usually in the form of a spam bot.

Why now?

Machine learning and artificial intelligence software – the technology behind bots – have seen massive improvements over the past few years between IBM, Facebook, and Google. On top of advancements in the technology itself, product and service companies are feeling experiencing pressure to deliver more customer service especially through chat channels where bots excel.
Chat is not new, the idea of instant messaging or chat has been a central theme throughout the history of the internet. But, developers are using messaging in new ways, such as interacting with brands to complete transactions and receive critical information.

Bots vs Apps

There is quite a bit of hype that the era of ‘an app for that’ is over now that bot technology is improving by leaps and bounds. While true that bots are superior in some aspects – mainly for completely simple transaction based events such as checking account balances or order status – the app provides a familiar medium and interface. A predominantly bot driven universe is several years away. The technology is not robust enough yet to quite grasp nuances of human interaction.
Not everything is designed for a chat based interaction, especially for heavy visual actives. Siri, Cortana and Alexa have been on the market for quite some time, yet are not seen in the enterprise or used in a public setting. Bots reduce this interaction to text, but still requires a shift in how we view technology.

Advice for brands

Bots are here to stay, and will grow in popularity. However, you must think your bot strategy through. It will be too easy to lose customers though poorly designed bots veiled as live customer service representatives. Your customers know the difference between a bot and a human and will expect a level of transparency and trust.
This is not to say that you should not incorporate bots into your product offering. But, realize where their place is and communicate openly with your customers. Offer an option to interact with another human when possible or incorporate escalation procedures.