Robot 2

Facebook’s Global developer conference has given us a glimpse into its future and possibly our own. Facebook have announced a new feature which will allow businesses to utilise automated replies to messages.

“Chatbots” are computer programs (lets call them robots) that simulate conversations with humans. Many commentators and experts are seeing chatbots as the future of customer engagement. 

This is big news. Historically, companies using automated technology for ‘livechat’ customer enquiries have been frustrating at best. It’s no different than an automated phone system you talk to at the bank to direct your call “to the right person” – these have a bad reputation because they have never managed to give the customer the speed or convenience they should.

Understanding text over voice, though, may be a lot more intuitive, and a lot faster to develop on a large scale. You only have to look at the progress made in the past five years by Siri & Google Voice (seriously, get your phone out and ask it something). 

How do chatbots work?

Robot (1)

With over 900 million people communicating via messenger and 50 million businesses already using messenger, Facebook are launching the Messenger Platform (Beta) with their send and receive API.

“We’re excited to introduce bots for the Messenger Platform. Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them.” – Facebook.

Companies and developers will have the ability to create their own chatbots to be used on messenger, capable of interactive call-to-action’s, links, images and pretty much any form of digital content you could feasibly squeeze into messenger.

Developers will be able to build bots that are capable of interpreting natural language and will be able to improve over time.

Facebook vs the world

Social selling is certainly on the rise and Facebook has been moving towards getting a slice of the e-commerce market for a while now. Facebook recently introduced instant articles to further increase engagement and keep people surfing on Facebook, as opposed to clicking on an article and being taken off the Facebook app. Facebook doesn’t want this.

Image: Facebook
Image: Facebook

Shopify is offering a fully integrated e-commerce solution with full support from Facebook offering plenty of advice to help businesses get the most out of Facebook – and with support from companies such as Shopify, this means great news for Facebook.

Facebook recognises that engagement is key to high customer buying intent in 2016 and onwards. Our attention spans are down, we demand instant gratification and we have far more selection than ever before when purchasing. It’s simply too easy to find the best deal and perhaps not so much the best product anymore because results pages are generally filled with the best and most popular deals, rather than a more personalised shopping experience we used to have.

Social selling can really help bridge this gap by allowing people to come across things they think are awesome and then allowing the social platform to lead them to a purchase.

Increasing customer engagement = increasing revenue

It seems to me, Facebook wants to do everything it can to ensure we stay on Facebook. Whether it’s an algorithm favouring videos uploaded directly to Facebook as opposed to a Youtube link, for example, or the Instant Articles keeping users from leaving Facebook to read the latest news from around the world or the fact clicking a link takes you via the mobile version, to the link you requested, and hitting the back button takes you right back to the app.

The list of ways you can utilise Facebook for business now is staggering. Facebook need to be careful though, with every subtle move to keep more people on their site, the less shopping traffic is going through other channels. The rise of social selling can be a good thing, but when it starts significantly affecting Google’s shopping feed and ad revenue, this could cause some competition which may not be helpful for users.

Good or bad for business?

I work closely with PMC Telecom, we have discussed the benefits of chatbots for customers. We know customers want convenience, speed and information. 

The ability to get an instant answer to a simple query – is a useful tool for customers. A customer wanting to know if a product is in stock for example is something that chatbots can definitely help with.

Steve: “Hi, Do you have product “x” in stock?”

Chatbot: “Hi Steve! Yes we have 145 of product “x” in stock”

Or

Steve: “Tell me about product “x””

Chatbot: “Hi Steve, based on your suggestion, here are a few reviews and articles for the product you’re interested in.”

As a company, PMC Telecom would be very reluctant to roll anything out which is much more complex than this. The business is basically built upon helping people, and currently it works very well. If it is able to give customers a better service with fast, targeted automated messages, that’s great. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and start cutting down on service staff. That is a day I hope never comes.

The good: Faster answers for simple queries, 24/7 support with lower costs, personalised content.

The not so good: Impersonal, not a full solution, ROBOTS ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD!

A brief look at our dystopian robot led future

In 1790, we had as much as 85% of all people working in agriculture, because they had to. This is yet another step towards replacing human muscles and intelligence with a more tireless, errorless robotic future.

This may sound dramatic, but it’s a fact. It’s how economies grow. As technology is able to free us up from jobs we don’t really need to be doing anymore, we are able to start doing other jobs. This leaves everybody better off, and here’s a fun fact robots don’t need to do a perfect job they just have to do it better than humans. Just take a look at this video.

 

Final word

Chatbots are a great move towards improving the user experience for customers, and there are some really big implications for the way we interact with businesses. They could be used to “cut the fat” at some larger organisations with large call centres but more than anything they should be used as a tool to help companies not replace service staff.

 

By Steven Mills, author at tech-mag.