Are Bots the New Apps?
I would confidently bet there’s an app on your smartphone you haven’t used in months. Perhaps there are several collecting digital dust in a folder. You don’t want them taking up memory on your phone, and you spend a high majority of your time in just a few apps anyway. Need a to-do list? There’s not just an app for that–there are thousands. The app market is saturated to a point of maturation–and all of its drawbacks have laid the perfect foundation for the bot economy.
Bots live on servers instead of on user devices, which makes them quicker to develop and update. Bots are much cheaper to build than apps, which transforms them into viable options for restaurants, shops, and small businesses alike that could not reasonably front an app’s price tag. For consumers, bot installation is nearly instantaneous and switching from bot to bot doesn’t require an application change as well. A quick conversation with a bot could answer questions about an upcoming flight, what ingredients are in a restaurant’s dish, or details on a retailer’s return policy. Skeptical about the value of this service? Uber overturned an entire industry with similar benefits: self-service at your fingertips, lower costs, and flat-out speed. If millennials can avoid talking to a customer service-rep or having to make a phone call, they will.
A Little Bot Background
Microsoft defines a bot as the following:
“Bots (or conversation agents) are rapidly becoming an integral part of one’s digital experience – they are as vital a way for users to interact with a service or application as is a web site or a mobile experience. Developers writing bots all face the same problems: bots require basic I/O; they must have language and dialog skills; and they must connect to users – preferably in any conversation experience and language the user chooses.”
Furthermore, some bots are built upon Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems, but not all AI systems are bots. Even though they seem like a new trend, the first bot was developed over 100 years ago and the first bot appeared on Twitter in 2006–the year of the social network’s onset. Since bots are text or language based, instead of geographically based, their lower cost and development efforts will lead to a future in which the number of bots dramatically surpass the volume of existing apps.
Why Should You Care?
Facebook just announced a Messenger Platform with Chatbots and The Bot Engine at its highly anticipated F8 Conference on April 12th. Both products launched the same day.
Microsoft has published bots on Skype along with tools which will allow developers to create bots for any platform. On May 18th, Google joined the Bot game with its AI-based Allo Messaging App. These tech giants have the power to deeply integrate bots into products we rely on in our daily lives and, based on the enthusiasm they have shown toward bots so far, they certainly plan to. For comparison, the app market exploded after Apple and Google took interest.
Botlist, the first third-party database for cross-platform bots was released on April 11th, which includes bots on email, web, SMS, Slack, mobile, apps, and more. Instant messaging services continue to grow at a considerable rate which makes bots ideal for both enterprise & personal services such as Slack or Kik, which both already boast their own bot stores. Unlike apps, bots are not necessarily device-specific. The bot market is up for grabs, and those who are quickest to react will likely reap the most benefits from this quickly-adopted & less complex technology.
What Should You Do?
First and foremost, you should keep up to date on what types of Bots exists and where–particularly on Facebook. We recommend installing some bots and testing them out. As you grow more comfortable with the experience, begin to think about how a bot could help a customer who wants to interact with your business. Would it make sense to develop a bot for your business? How could it be used to fulfill your business objectives? Considering the fact that a bot is rooted in conversation, would a customer who is independently using a bot to interact with your business be able to locate the information that he or she is looking for? Think about the types of questions your consumer may have and make sure that the information is available within your digital assets–in detail. Although a trickier feat for SMBs, innovative companies will design their own bots to offer quick & thrilling service to their customers. Taco Bell already has (instant taco orders on Slack, anyone?). Even if you’re not feeling adventurous, just stay afloat on the bot waters. Bots are already, and will increasingly be, a new channel in which your customers may interact with your business. If you miss out a channel where your customers are, plan to lose out on sales.
As demonstrated by the Microsoft Tay incident, bot technology still has a lot of room for improvement. As we wait for bots to mature, the ability to automate complex tasks and reach customers in an entirely new, relevant way is certainly an exciting potential to look forward to.