To Bot (or Not to Bot)?

by Fionna Duffy, Art Director, 15º

If you’ve ever received eerily customized ads based on your email history, chances are you’ve already met a bot. New technology is allowing for an unprecedented level of automated interactivity: from Google’s groundbreaking, grandmaster-defeating Alpha Go to Microsoft’s ill-fated Twitter chatbot Tay, bots have been everywhere this summer.

Facebook’s latest venture, revealed at the F8 developer convention in April, deploys several AI-enabled built-ins touted to make users’ lives more convenient. Through Facebook’s Messenger platform, users can now receive a customized livefeed from CNN, cheeky weather updates from a cartoon cat named Poncho and retail suggestions from the personal shopping startup Spring. By turning their Messenger into an open platform, Facebook is allowing companies to connect to their audience via live customer service, a bot or, optimally, a combination of the two.1

With the proliferation of smart devices, people are now interacting with bots in more ways and in more places than ever. Nest’s Thermostat uses bots to help you set your preferred home temperature; Amazon’s Alexa will remind you to order replacement toothbrushes. There are those that say this new wave of AI enabled technology is too intimate, reliant on a customer base freely and constantly willing to share personal information. Despite these concerns, the gamble seems to have paid off: Bots continue to emerge the winner in a field full of technological advancements.

Going forward, more companies in the U.S. and abroad will incorporate bots into their websites and software applications to conduct transactions with their customers.

Atom Bank, a mobile-only bank based in the U.K., has added virtual agent software to its app, while retaining a human customer service department. Major European retailers Sephora and H&M recently announced plans to release chatbots through messaging app Kik, joining a long roster of Kik-optimized bots including those from the Weather Channel and Funny or Die.3 In fact, chatbot-enhanced messaging has long been successful outside the U.S., from China’s ever-expanding WeChat to Germany’s Telegram, which boasts 100 million active users.4

In his 2015 report The Future Of Mobile Wallets Lies Beyond Payments, author Thomas Husson says that bots are even set to replace apps since there’s less decision-making on the user’s part:

“The app model has stalled out: People don’t use a ton of apps, and they don’t download many either. The reason is simple: There’s an enormous amount of friction associated with learning about a new app, downloading it, signing up for it, and then remembering you even have it.”5

By incorporating bots into interfaces that already have a built-in audience, companies can ensure that their products reach desired demographics without creating time-consuming obstacles.


How can your company benefit from a bot? According to Retail Dive’s Daphne Howland, bots work best in specific cases, where the user has a set of questions–where is my nearest branch; what sort of checking account can I open at this bank?3 Human interaction is still king when it comes to in-depth customer service, but bots pull through when reserved for menial tasks or initiating conversation.

As AI continues to evolve, expanding its language and ability to solve more complex issues, so will chatbots’ role in engaging customers and sourcing data. This could allow your business to run more expediently, while ensuring users feel cared for by an ever-improving customer service experience.