Bots have been built into devices and operating in the background for many years (think Google search engine), but only recently have software companies started to exploit their capabilities beyond simple querying of information followed by a programmed response.
Just like Apple opened the app market to allow developers to write their own apps back in 2008, this revolution has now begun for AI and bots. In 2016, tech companies finally released platforms that allow third parties to start building and deploying solutions for the technology.
From Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google and even enterprise tools such as Slack, the SDKs and tools have been rolled out. Today, developers don’t need their own platform to create an Alexa skill – it is made available to them by Amazon. Each of these vendors is now looking to create an economy to proliferate their tools and maximise value for their users, giving power to the masses.
Just as we have seen major change to the mobile sandboxes in the last ten years as products roll out, the rules of engagement will change so what is to come is a combination of what is possible and what is allowed.
Based on the promise of making our lives easier, bots will impact our lives more than ever in 2018. Here are five ways they will make a difference.
1. In the workplace: from meeting scheduling to resolving IT issues
Bots will reshape the way that work environments operate and streamline traditionally administrative tasks, from simple meeting scheduling to more complicated tasks, such as IT support.
For example, companies that use shared messaging systems can now add an intelligent agent bot to their system that has access to their calendars. If a meeting needs to be scheduled, the bot will then check people’s calendars and take care of all the scheduling.
Chatbots will also enhance the effectiveness of IT departments. Instead of tickets being logged and IT consultants having to keep track of them, bots can access typically available enterprise datasets very quickly and message the correct point of contact to resolve an issue within seconds of an incident taking place or a customer reporting a system issue on social media.
For example, if a company’s website is down and somebody reports it on Facebook messenger, a chatbot will be able to pick up the query and check it against historical data, such as network and server availability. It will then be able to direct a documented analysis to the company’s operations personnel, helping to resolve the issue far quicker.
Not only will this increase the speed at which issues can be dealt with, the chatbot will also provide a documented response should anyone need to access it. Furthermore, analysts can initiate automated responses or actions, meaning that IT teams can in future focus on core tasks.
2. When shopping for goods: loyalty and customer service
The days of automated voice response customer service hotlines are hopefully soon coming to an end thanks to bots. Rather than making a customer dial a number, hold the line and respond their way through a confusing number of options via voice command, bots can be implemented across a range of messaging platforms from social media to onscreen webchats, enabling the consumer to communicate with a company comfortably in the environment of his choice.
This offers brands unique opportunities to create a more personal and meaningful relationship with customers. Based on tailored conversations between the brand and their customer, bots can communicate with customers, generate interest and awareness in products and services, and help customers complete purchases, for example by suggesting payment and delivery options.
By analysing past customer behaviour and building a detailed consumer profile, the bot will then also be able to activate the most suitable loyalty programme for the customer, thereby deepening the mutual relationship.
In addition to the valuable opportunity that chatbots will provide brands in creating more personalised engagements with customers, they will also drive down the cost of customer servicing, meaning a better, quicker service can be provided to more customers.
3. At home: playing music, ordering food
In recent months, some of the big tech giants have released AI-enabled devices for the home such as home speakers that respond to voice commands. Whilst these are marketed as fully functional artificial intelligence for the home, they operate on basic bot principles based on voice rather than textual commands.
Voice command will make these devices particularly popular, meaning that the user can multitask hands-free. For example, the user can ask the bot to play a particular song when cooking without having to wipe their hands and complete this action manually.
For those who don’t want to cook, skills that connect the device to other businesses enable the user to order food for home delivery simply by talking and without ever having to look up a menu or pull out a payment card.
As more skills and functions are made available by the manufacturers, these home assistants will become more widely adopted, creating the fully functional personal home assistant of the future.
4. When making decisions and lifestyle choices
Given that bots will soon be supporting us more prominently on numerous devices and platforms such as mobile phones, when shopping online and as home assistants, we will rely on them more to provide us with information that they deem relevant.
However, just as our choice of newspaper or car can affect the way we process information and experience the road, the built-in capabilities and resources of bots will affect the decisions and choices we make in life.
For example, if a user asks a chatbot built into an online shopping tool to suggest black wool scarves, the chatbot will show scarves that are pure wool and those that are made up of a wool mix. If the user does not specify their query, they might end up ordering a mixed material scarf that they didn’t really want.
Experience will therefore show how the reliance on robots will affect our ability to obtain the products and services we really want. Sponsored bot skills could also become a possibility in future, meaning that if a user does not have time to search for the best holiday deal themselves, they will opt for whatever the bot suggests.
5. Moving away from screens
Desktop computer usage has steadily decreased over the last few years, giving rise to increased mobile usage, and whereas a user was happy to bank online via the bank’s website, they are now increasingly banking via mobile app.
With the introduction of voice-enabled devices, screens will no longer dominate the future of interactions. Voice-enabled devices will shape a transition away from traditional screen-based interactions and open up new ways of completing everyday tasks, sourcing entertainment and making choices that impact our daily lives.
JP Lucchetti, consultancy director, Mubaloo