When is the last time you chatted online with a customer service agent? Maybe you had a question about your last bank statement, or perhaps you’re curious about the new line of clothing that just hit your favorite retail store. Believe it or not, one or more of these types of online interactions are likely to have happened between you and not a person … but between you and a chatbot.
Movies like Her (watch it) and Iron Man (also great) aside, chatbots are beginning to become quite nascent in our current technological landscape. Chatbots made their real debut in 2010 with the introduction of Siri, but now we see them everywhere and being used by a variety of companies and industries such as Hilton, Tommy Hilfiger, Facebook, and Slack, to enhance user experience and customer satisfaction. More recently, we are seeing “physical” chatbots infiltrate the home with the introduction of Alexa.
What is a chatbot, you ask? While the definitions of chatbots vary, you’ll almost always find some variation of the following:
Chatbots are software or artificial intelligence applications that users interact with via digital platforms to help answer questions, complete automated tasks, get certain types of notifications, and engage in live, automated conversations.
As a professional communicator specializing in technical communication, I’ve started to keep my eye on chatbots and stay up to date with their advancements because I believe chatbots will have huge implications on user communication moving forward. Specifically, here are five reasons why professional communicators should take note of chatbots and start to understand them:
- Chatbots are gaining traction. According to a recent study, 40% of millennials say they interact with a bot daily. In addition, the chatbot industry grew by 229% between 2015 and 2016 while in comparison, the app industry only grew 66% in that same timeframe. As communicators, we understand that data can help tell a story. This particular data on chatbots should tell you that they are gaining popularity, and likely here to stay.
- Chatbots can be found in nearly every industry. Due to chatbots cost-effectiveness and efficiency, we’re already seeing them used in the retail, hotel, travel, and financial industries, among others. As we begin to understand the utility of chatbots more and more, it is only a matter of time before nearly every industry has implemented some type of chatbot or artificial intelligence customer service platform. In a similar fashion, professional communicators are also found in every type of industry. Meaning, in the next few years professional communicators working as internal staff or as consultants will not only need to understand chatbots, but will need to able to account for chatbots in strategies involving consumer and user communication and interaction.
- Chatbots are cost effective. Chatbots can easily carry out low-level, automated tasks faster and cheaper than humans can. Let’s say you need to track down the same pair of pants you bought last month from a retail store. If you engage in an interaction with a chatbot, it can pull up your most recent order (which contains the style and size you need) and can put that pair of pants in your cart within seconds. While humans can obviously carry out the same task, we don’t necessarily need the “human touch” to complete these types of automated tasks, nor can we do it as quickly. Professional communicators should be aware of this advantage and know how to leverage the quick access chatbots have to users to come up with creative ways to communicate with users.
- Chatbots can personalize, personalize, personalize. Yes, chatbots can pull up your most recent order and help you re-order a pair of pants, but the personalization capabilities of chatbots extend much further. With the constant improvement of chatbot algorithms, we are starting to see chatbots capable of making suggestions or asking questions of users based on current mood, syntax and language used, and past interactions with the company. Not sure where to travel next month? A chatbot might be able to help given your recent hotel, flight, and restaurant history. As professional communicators, we understand the huge value that personalized messages can have on brand loyalty and consumer marketing; before long, chatbots may be an essential campaign communication tool.
- Implementation of chatbots can provide insightful user data. We hear it all the time: Big data tells a story. Chatbot data can help tell a story too, such as the types of questions users are asking chatbots, typical barriers to successful user interactions, and gaps in the current chatbot-user system. By consulting the data, communicators will not only be able to know how to utilize chatbots, but how to leverage them to achieve different types of goals as well.
Not all information and news about chatbots is positive, however. Much of the conversation around chatbots is centered on job security and job loss–in essence, that chatbots (and other robots) are replacing humans for jobs such as data entry and customer service. However, note that this has not happened at a grand scale yet; to date, chatbots have primarily assumed super low-level jobs that, in turn, free up human resources to take on more emotionally complex work.
While there is still much to learn about chatbot capability and how they fit into our overall technological ecosystem, we cannot deny that chatbots are here to stay. As professional communicators, this type of emergent technology is not only interesting to learn about, but will most likely become an important element of consumer and user communication moving forward. Move over, Siri–there are some new chatbots in town.