Column: Why should firms care about chatbots?

There’s a lot of hype around chatbots and AI right now, and there has been for the past 18/24 months, writes Welsh tech entrepreneur Paul Shepherd. 

But why now? Why now, when Eliza (the world’s first chatbot) was developed by MIT between 1964 and 1966? And why now when cyborgs and intelligent robots have been the stuff of science fiction since the 50’s?

In short, there are lots of reasons, but let’s look at some of the main events (IMO) that have led to the rise of the bots…

Social vs Messaging

The first trend we’ll look at is the use of messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik, Viber, Telegram, WeChat, and Line (the list goes on).

For the first time in 2015, the use of these apps over took over the use of social media in terms of monthly active users. The change happened at about the 2.5 billion mark, when the number of people using messaging platforms started to climb sharply.

By the end of 2016, messaging apps boasted around 4 billion monthly active users to social media’s 3.5 billion (these figure are global).

Great expectations

With such huge consumer adoption comes huge opportunity, businesses began to embrace the messaging channel in an attempt to serve their customers where their customers spend their time.

Customers no longer need to download stand alone apps or visit company websites. Increasingly they can reach the companies they need to through the channels they use everyday.

Those channels are messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, Telegram and WhatsApp. Happily for businesses, lots of these platforms allow for the development of chatbots, meaning they can be there without actually having to… be there!

The customer demand

So chatbots make perfect sense from a business perspective, but what about the customer viewpoint? It turns out there’s a huge demand there too. I looked at just some of the reasons customers would use a chatbot, and listed them in order of popularity:

  • 24 hour service
  • Quick answers to simple questions
  • Instant responses
  • Convenience
  • Ease of communication
  • Ability to register a complaint
  • Efficient complaint resolution
  • Good customer experience
  • Quick answers to complex issues
  • Friendly and approachable

It’s clear that customer demand is changing (and increasing). There’s an expectation that businesses are now contactable anytime, anywhere and through any channel, and messaging platforms, chatbots and AI make this possible. In short, it’s definitely time to make messaging a core part of your communication strategy.

Automation for the people

While users of social media were busy migrating to messaging platforms, another thing started happening. In recent years, tech giants like IBM, Uber, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple and Amazon have begun pouring billions (and billions) of dollars into automation research, and into opening up of their development platforms for companies like We Build Bots.

That creates an ecosystem, and when a company – or a technological advancement – creates an ecosystem, things gather momentum and real change starts to happen. The most successful example of this is Apple.

The App Store has earned developers who embraced the Apple SDK (Software Development Kit) a cool $70 billion since 2008, and Apple is understood to have reaped around $30 billion in the same period. Money making? Seems like there’s an app for that!

One thing’s for sure, and that’s when companies of this size invest in creating an ecosystem, it’s because they believe they’re right. Who are we to disagree?

Making headlines

OK, so when the users, businesses and major tech players start to align, another thing happens; the analysts, commentators, experts, journalists and specialists all start to take note.

They start to look into the benefits and pitfalls of these new advancements, and they commission research. Then they release their findings in articles, posts, whitepapers and the like. In short they start to back (or buck) the trend.

Just a couple of headlines to come out over the past 18 months include Gartner’s prediction that around 85% of customer interactions with businesses will be automated by 2020, and Juniper’s assessment that around $8 billion per year will be saved by businesses globally through AI and chatbot adoption.

When businesses and consumers start to read these kinds of headlines, it creates further demand, drives further adoption and the trend accelerates.

And that’s why – to some degree – we’re seeing all the hype around chatbots and AI today.