Chatbots For Business

For my friends who have businesses, but little time to stay on top of tech trends...

You finally figured out web design, e-commerce, SEO, mobile optimization, apps, blogging, and inbound marketing. Now along comes another battlefront to consider: the chat box. That rectangular text-entry box at the bottom of every chat conversation is about to become the place where Google meets the app store and has a baby.  

Google processes 3.5 billion search queries a day.  The chat box is used over one hundred billion times a day, and it has our never ending attention.  Each day, chat users send 30 billion Whatsapp messages, 20 billion SMS messages, and another 50 billion messages are sent via Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Line, Skype, SnapChat, WeChat, Viber, and countless others combined.  The bottom line: the chat box is everywhere; it’s used more than Google; and it’s about to become way more useful via robots.

Chatbots are robotic listeners built into messaging apps that are capable of parsing conversations and processing nearly-natural language requests.  Chatbots can be configured to listen to conversations, and then to interact autonomously, or they can be directly addressed using voice or text commands.  Chatbots deliver lines or blocks of information, run connected services, and eventually they will stream app-like functionality, including custom interfaces, back to users.

Every business owner will ultimately have to pay attention to the chat interaction model.  If you have information on a server, get ready to serve it through a bot.  

Here are some examples:

  • Two engineers are discussing a new medical device on Slack and they ask Glassbot for specifications on a particular LCD screen: @glassbot: show specs on 70WVW3A.
  • A real estate agent is chatting with a client about a home and she asks Compsbot for comparative sales information: @compsbot: show comps for 99 Walnut St. in Lexington, Ma.
  • The CEO and the CFO of a small company are chatting about their company’s performance and they ask the bookkeeping bot for a sales graph: @botkeeper: show 2015 sales graph.
  • A mechanic and a customer are chatting about a repair and they ask Partbot for prices on a transmission: @partbot: get prices for a 2011 Toyota 4Runner automatic transmission.  
  • An entire office is chatting about a lunch order and they ask Lunchbot to deliver food: @lunchbot: deliver 4 large veggie pizzas.
  • Two teenagers are discussing a new artist and they ask Songbot to play a song: @songbot: play Mountain at My Gates by Foals.  
  • A potential car buyer asks Ratebot for financing information: @ratebot: get me a loan for @18K.

In the examples above, every robot already knows the chatting humans, their location, and other bits of previously disclosed information.  These (fictional) bots also process natural language requests, can ask follow-on questions (e.g.: anchovies or not), could be powered by humans or computers, and all of these bots...bypass Google to supply information.  And even better yet, bots are probably a whole lot easier to build and support than apps!

This post brings up a lot of questions like how to buy, build, or get started in the bot business.  However, in this post, I am just pointing out the opportunity.  I will answer one question though: “How will users find bots?”  With a Searchbot!  What else would they use?

 

A week after writing Chatbots For Business, I came across Futures of Text by Jonathan Libov of Union Square Ventures.  As a regular reader of Fred Wilson’s blog, I should have read Jonathan’s post many months ago. Jonathan says just about everything I said above...but better.   

 

Useful links:

The Search For The Killer Bot  http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/6/10718282/internet-bots-messaging-slack-facebook-m

2016 Will be the Year of Conversational Commerce  https://medium.com/chris-messina/2016-will-be-the-year-of-conversational-commerce-1586e85e3991#.y39iua958

When One App Rules Them All: The Case of WeChat and Mobile in China  http://a16z.com/2015/08/06/wechat-china-mobile-first/

The Future of UI is Text  http://partyline.rocks/blog/futureofui/

Chatbots Weekly Newsletter  http://www.chatbotsweekly.com/

Slack Is Overrun With Bots. Friendly, Wonderful Bots  http://www.wired.com/2015/08/slack-overrun-bots-friendly-wonderful-bots/

Facebook Launches M, Its Bold Answer to Siri and Cortana  http://www.wired.com/2015/08/facebook-launches-m-new-kind-virtual-assistant/

Chatbots Are Back And They’re About to Take Over  http://time.com/4194063/chatbots-facebook-messenger-kik-wechat/  

The Dark Side of The Coming Chatbot Revolution  http://www.computerworld.com/article/3018162/emerging-technology/the-dark-side-of-the-coming-chatbot-revolution.html