Recently I’ve been experimenting with many bots, in addition to the ones we all use – Google Now (OK Google) and Siri. Google and Siri have come a long way. I’ve noticed their progress particularly when using Google Translate, which I use in my language study to keep 6 languages sharp. I’ve seen the accuracy of the translations improve over time and was recently surprised that Google Now can do vocal translations. You can just say, “OK Google, say “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” in Italian and it will say it pretty accurately. Say it, not just show the text, but say it with a pretty accurate accent. That’s impressive!
This year is a turning point for not only AI, but for voice recognition and chat bots. Bots have been around a long time, but haven’t always been very useful due to the way they were programmed. They were dumb – based on “if, then” programming. In other words, the programmers would create the bot to say X if someone typed in Y, which didn’t leave for a lot of options. It would be impossible to program a responsive bot using that kind of logic.
With natural language processing (a subset of A.I.), things are changing quickly as these chat program are quickly becoming more useful. Large companies like Facebook, Whatsapp, Uber, WeChat, Google and many others are betting that people will spend more and more time in their messaging programs.
It turns out, they’re correct. A report from Business Insider states that messaging apps have eclipsed social networks in monthly actives:
Conversational Commerce is What’s Next
This is an important development for ecommerce. Ecommerce and installed apps are changing. Our online and mobile interactions will become more and more based on “conversational commerce.” This term was coined by Chris Messina, Developer Experience Lead at @Uber and inventor of the #hashtag.
He defines conversational commerce as “utilizing chat, messaging, or other natural language interfaces (i.e. voice) to interact with people, brands, or services and bots that heretofore have had no real place in the bidirectional, asynchronous messaging context.”
Watch the short video below to see how you can order an Uber from Facebook Messenger. This is just the beginning or what apps can do.
Downloadable Apps Are Changing
Two trends are converging – mobile messaging apps and artificial intelligence. Bots, natural language processing and live agents are working together to improve the customer experience online.
The way we interact with brands online is changing quickly as mobile communication gets more sophisticated and customized.
Apps downloads average barely above 0. People don’t download apps and don’t keep a lot of apps on their phones and are looking for something easier.
Consumers also prefer texting and mobile apps over telephone calls. Don’t believe me? Just look at your phone bill. Across the industry the average number of monthly texts has exploded while minutes used talking has tanked. People just don’t like talking on the phone, especially not to customer service agents. According to a recent Mary Meeker report, 12% of Millenials and 29% of Gen Xers want customer service by phone. People want to deal with companies by text and messenger.
Add the fact that it’s now easy to pay online with a chat program, like Facebook Messenger or WeChat, and you see the friction of ecommerce decreasing.
If you want to see the future of ecommerce, look at what the huge Chinese holding company Tencent is doing with WeChat. You can do anything with their app, from hailing a taxi, track your fitness or pay your water bill. Being able to send a message to a business is already popular in China and Facebook is making it more popular in the U.S.
Personalization Gets Personal
One big benefit of bots is personalization because they’re built to fit your needs. You request what you want and it appears. No need to install anything and it’s always there for you.
Bots are “invited” into a conversion, not downloaded. It’s more like real life. Everything is personalized, as you ordered it to be, so intrusive notifications are non-existent.
Another big development is that the longer you talk to a bot, the more it will learn about you and further customize your experience, so your experience gets better with time. This will become especially useful in regards to online shopping. You can already pay with Facebook and other platforms (Viv recently demonstrated the capability), which opens doors to paying other bots for products and services.
Since conversional mobile apps have information about you, it is easier for them to fight fraud because accounts are more difficult to spoof. These bots will get to know you and your preferences in a way that will come to be second nature. In the next couple of years we’ll be talking more and more to our phones and computers as if they’re people, or rather, concierges, helping us with our daily tasks.
To see this playing out, go check out the Apple store, where you’ll see the Apple Watch front and center. You’ll notice they don’t sell the Cinema monitor anymore since they quietly discontinued it last week without naming a replacement. I spoke with an employee at the Apple store yesterday who speculated that Apple is getting out of the monitor business. Siri is going into everything – MacBooks, Apple TV, etc.
In the next couple of years it’ll feel normal to talk to your watch or computer and messenger apps and chat bots will be a big part of this as they go from being text-based to speech-based. These bots will be helping us doing everything and what we’re seeing now is just the beginning.
Development is Easier
Many have pointed out that it costs less to develop a bot than an app. An app must be built for multiple platforms and then the startup has to push the new versions and support all past versions, which is a lot of work compared to a bot that is updated continually. Bot developers can keep the bot updated in real time without the need to deal with the app store and their requirements. The only voice to cater to is your customers.
In a recent interview I did with a startup CEO of a popular app company, he lamented the fact that startups must spend so much money now days to get their app noticed and downloaded. That will change with bots since there is no need for an app store or mass marketing budgets.
All these changes mean that if you own an ecommerce store or build apps, you should be paying attention, because things are changing fast.
How do you think it’ll change ecommerce? How will it change your business?