Rise of the chatbot

For decades, consumers have accessed software, ordered online or searched the internet using clicks, touches and swipes. These actions have acted as a sort of conversational translator between our intentions and results we desire. Now and moving into the future however, that translation layer is going to dissolve. Instead of clicking and swiping our way to the outcomes we want, we’ll be able simply to have a conversation with software in our own words.

“Conversational interfaces are going to be a big part of how we interact with technology in the future,” says Dharmesh Shah, chatbot expert and co-founder of HubSpot, a customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing software platform that helps companies attract visitors, convert leads and service customers. “Instead of having to learn how to use complicated software, we’ll just be able to ask questions and the software will respond.”

This technological leap in how we interact with software is made possible by major technical advancements in how machines are able to process and understand natural language.

“The software we use is now a lot more capable of understanding ideas and commands in everyday human language. As a result, chatbots are becoming smarter and easier to have a conversation with,” says Mr Shah.

But advancements in the technology are only one piece of the puzzle. If better natural language processing is the fire behind chatbots, changing consumer behaviour has been the spark. Consumers at work and at home have heightened their expectations when it comes to how they interact with businesses. It is an on-demand culture. There is no such thing as “normal business hours” in a global economy. Consumers expect always-on conversations with the brands they like and assume businesses will embrace the platforms, apps and forms of communication they’re now using.

The best bots don’t just replicate what people could have done on the web or in a mobile app; they offer some unique capabilities that couldn’t easily be done before

Recently, messaging apps, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage, have grown in popularity. Facebook now has more than 1.3 billion users clicking on Messenger every month, with more than half of polled users more likely to shop with a business they can contact via a chat app. We’re also seeing this conversational behaviour with devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Furthermore, HubSpot research found that 40 per cent of respondents don’t care if they’re serviced by a person or an artificial intelligence (AI) tool, as long as they get help quickly and easily. Chatbots make it easy for customers to engage with a brand, whenever and wherever they prefer, whether that’s on Facebook Messenger, on a company’s website or in a messaging app.

It’s predicted that 85 per cent of all customer interactions will be managed without the need for human intervention by 2020, according to research by Gartner.

“Chatbots will have an impact on all things involving the customer experience because, for an increasing number of users, they are the easiest and quickest way to get something done,” explains Mr Shah.

In the not too distant future, customers can ask a chatbot “Do you have an office in London?” For sales, people could send a message such as “Do you accept American Express?” or, for other inquiries, “My device is stuck, how do I reboot it?” The possibilities are endless.

“In each of these cases, the customer can simply ask a question, or make a request without navigating a complicated website or waiting on hold on the phone, therefore saving time and effort.” says Mr Shah.

hubspot chatbot illustrationHubSpot recently acquired Motion AI, a company which removes the technical barrier for companies that want to build their own chatbots. Motion AI’s technology enables users to build, train and deploy AI robots to do almost anything, from booking meetings and qualifying leads, to running customer service chats and diagnosing problems, all without needing technical skills.

Mr Shah saw a natural synergy between CRM and marketing software such as HubSpot and the goal of more natural, personalised conversations with chatbots. Using a chatbot with a CRM, a company could add more historical context to each conversation.

However, it’s unrealistic to assume every marketer can create their own bot from scratch and this is where HubSpot’s acquisition of Motion AI hits home. The industry-leading cross-platform technology enables anyone to create a chatbot for their site, via SMS, on Facebook Messenger, Slack and more, with no programming skills required.

Mr Shah has also been working on his own chatbot, Growthbot, since April 2016. It’s used by marketing and sales professionals around the world, and now answers 15,000 to 20,000 questions a week.

“The best way to learn about chatbots is to just try one out. I encourage people to just send a message to @growthbot on Facebook Messenger. Even a simple ‘hello’ is sufficient. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is and I think you’ll find it useful too,” he says.

There are several lessons Mr Shah has discovered by developing this bot. Firstly, customers like chatbots that have a personality. Secondly, a chatbot should not pretend to be a human as this can ultimately lead to disappointment.

“Basically, it’s perfectly fine for a chatbot to be a chatbot. The best bots don’t just replicate what people could have done on the web or in a mobile app; they offer some unique capabilities that couldn’t easily be done before,” says Mr Shah.

Customers now expect a tailored experience, including customised recommendations and a personal touch. Chatbots offer a scalable solution to these demands and companies that adapt will be rewarded with a significant competitive advantage.

For more information please visit www.hubspot.com