In 1999 the film titled Bicentennial Man became a point of reference for what the future of robots held. The film told the story of how an artificially intelligent (AI) robot, which was designed to serve humans, transitioned into a human over a time span of two hundred years. While it has not been two hundred years since the release of the film, the idea of functioning, human-like chatbots is now a reality.
The potential of chatbots is not simply a window which pops up on a website and asks the same, mundane questions of every consumer who visits the page. Rather, by combining AI and machine learning, the future of bots are frighteningly limitless.
Brands can use chatbots in a number of ways – they can be used to collect data or they can take the form of a virtual assistant, helping consumers to make purchasing decisions. Interestingly, Tangent Solutions has also been adding AI and chatbot technology into mobile apps, as they believe this is where the future is headed.
David Nel, Microsoft’s regional director and managing partner at Tangent Solutions says, the majority of South Africans’ are already using a conversational format in their day-to-day activities. “Businesses use Skype, HipChat and the likes of Trello to communicate while consumers are on WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger and other chat platforms. The reality is people feel comfortable with chat applications and as a result are more likely to give away more information about themselves.”
Nel said that while an email may still be required for formal conversations and interactions, staff are already using chat mechanisms for about 15 percent of their day and so introducing chatbots into the environment is the next natural step. While chatbots are an exciting part of the future, it’s important to remember the technology is designed to assist rather than replace. “Chatbots are a companion, not the competitor. If your chatbot function does its job correctly, by the time a sales assistant speaks to the consumer they should have all the information that they need to close the sale quickly.” When a consumer is faced with a graphical form on a website which asks for basic information such as name, surname, address or contact number the opt-out option is predictably high because the consumer feels overwhelmed with the way the brand is asking for their personal information. “Brands are able to gain so much more when it is done in a conversational manner, which is exactly what these chatbots can be designed to do,” said Nel.
”Brands are able to gain so much more when it is done in a conversational manner, which is exactly what these chatbots can be designed to do.”
Chatbots will become useful for surface organisational intelligence in the workplace. If a supervisor or senior official needs information on a certain employee they could manually go into a CRM and search for the information they need, or they could design a chatbot that does the job for them. The supervisor could type into his or hers chatbot ‘How is so and so doing?’ The chatbot will then automatically know to pull all the information and records available on that specific employee and present it to the supervisor in a conversational manner. This obviously saves time and hassle for everyone concerned.
Siri does not utilise machine learning because her questions do not change and develop according to your answers or needs, however, the software provides great insight into how the future may play out. “My prediction is that we will be living in a mixed reality within the next five years. Where we ask our glasses for directions to a certain shop in the shopping centre and interact with the apps on our devices through AI. This is how chatbots are going to develop which is why it is important for brands to get on board with the concept now. One thing we have learnt is that consumers adapt extremely quickly. If your competitors get ahead of you, it might be hard to recover.”