Today the way customers and users are going to interact with company websites and ecommerce portals is changing much faster than expected and much different from that was predicted. Smart chatbots supported by Artificial Intelligence (AI), assisted with language-recognizing and answering back voice systems are fast emerging as substitutes to call center assistance. Though these new AI-assisted smart chatbots are not going to replace the call center support, these future chatbots are expected to substantially reduce the call center works. We at Mobility magazine interacted with some industry experts who revealed many interesting facts about the future role of smart chatbots.
Smart chatbots as the future conversational user interfaces
With smart chatbots, the conversational interfaces are substantially different from the traditional, screen-based interfaces that are common in desktop, web and mobile paradigms where the user experience is primarily a sequence of messages that flow back and forth and the rendering of the message is usually handled by the underlying messaging platform and is often highly constrained. The primary consideration of the conversational interface designer is the required narrative flow of the conversation and not the visual design.
Beerud Sheth, Co- Founder & CEO of GupShup Technologies Pvt Ltd, shares, “Conversations usually consist of two kinds of interactions — the structured and the unstructured. The unstructured includes freestyle plain text while the structured involves forms, menus, choices, etc. Ordering from a menu at the restaurant (I want ‘item #3’ or ‘combo #2’), filling a form at the doctor’s office (e.g. medical history), sending an invoice to your customer, sending meeting notes to your team—these are examples of structured conversations. On the other hand, conversations with friends, family, teachers, colleagues and acquaintances tend to be unstructured. Messaging apps will gradually add more support for these ‘smart messaging’ capabilities, which will be a critical prerequisite to enable more advanced workflows and bots. A good place to start is by comparing the effort required by the user (input) to accomplish a certain goal (output). This gives a measure of the ‘efficiency’ of the conversation. As this space evolves, conversational interface design will become a lot more analytical than it is today. Conversational bots do not necessarily mean these bots must be engaged in human-quality conversations. So long as they can do a few things and do them well, that will be fine. Bots should not overpromise and underdeliver. So long as its capability matches the expectation set with the user, the experience will be great.”
In the words of Pranay Jain, Co-Founder of Enterprise Bot, “For conversational interface, the AI-supported virtual assistant is expected to be the way in the coming years. In the short term, you will see evolution of ui and ux to make it faster for people to complete things faster. We are already seeing this happen with the evolution of facebook messenger bot platforms with the concepts of smart cards being introduced.”
Sachin Jaiswal, CEO, niki.ai, conveys, “Touch and Tap UIs, which currently exist, are simple but conversations are simple as well as the most natural way of interaction. And conversational applications are scalable too – since they can happen within a mobile app, on web, on a chatbot, on voice and so on. Thus, we believe, in future most our daily tasks will all be channeled through conversations.”
The impact of chatbots on future consumer-to-business communication
Chat is the future of commerce. Commerce is more than just picking an item from a catalog and clicking ‘buy.’ More often than not, consumers want their friends’ opinions before making a decision, especially if it’s a joint-use product like furniture or a fashion-related category like apparel or jewelry. Sometimes, buyers want to consult an expert about a complex product like electronics. And still at other times they wish to consult prior buyers who’ve used the said product, for instance when purchasing long-term durable goods. Even after deciding to buy, the purchaser may want to negotiate price or terms with the seller, especially if it’s a second-hand or involves multiple shipping options.
Beerud Sheth of GupShup Technologies says, “The common thread among all of these scenarios is chat. If the conversation is not handled well during any of the purchase cycles, the merchant will inevitably lose the sale (and the customer). Ecommerce merchants now have to enable easy-to-use, highly responsive chat options to increase sales conversion. Using unstructured messages to implement chat in e-commerce is expensive and non-scalable. The better option is the use of structured messages for instant interactions. The structured message can render interactive elements within a single message and can be programmed to automatically handle a user’s response. For example, selecting a shipping preference simply requires one structured message. After a user contacts support, a series of structured prompts can auto-guide that user to the FAQ section to solve his/her problem. Chat is the future of commerce just. It has been proven to deliver higher conversion rates, customer satisfaction and a lifetime of value.”
According to Ravina Mutha, Co-Founder of Enterprise Bot, today, it is frustrating for a consumer to have to call businesses as it can take anywhere between a few minutes to half an hour or more. Conversational user interfaces which will be powered by AI will allow you to get data you require on any platform. We are seeing all industries from airlines to banks looking at how it can improve consumer to business communication using chatbots. For example, what if you could ask your airlines with a single message about how much will you get as refund if you cancel now or what your baggage limit is for an international flight. The requests are simple but the technology that allows computers to understand this has just started evolving.
Sachin Jaiswal of niki.ai asserts, “Conversational commerce opens up a huge market for businesses. There are 10 times more users on messaging than who do commerce online. For consumers it becomes simpler to reach and interact with a business, which will lead to higher conversion and retention rates.”
The growing trend of chatbots will also attract growing risks
As with any new technology trend, there will be bad bots as predictably as good ones. With every advance in technology, there are people looking to exploit it. One should know how to avoid the ‘dark bots’ to be safe.
Beerud Sheth of GupShup Technologies feels, “For instance, a bot whose ownership is unknown has the freedom to cheat with impunity. Trust and verification is essential for security on any platform. There will also be bots that will leak information about you to other bots. The information may or may not be personally identifiable, but these leaky bots will compromise your privacy beyond reasonable use. Expect some social engineering with malicious bots as well. This type of bot will abuse your trust to gather knowledge about you. By leveraging the messaging metaphor, bots assume the role of a friend. Bots have a conversational interface, making them appear more human than websites or apps. Inevitably, human users will start seeing bots as their friends, sharing more information than they would with sites or apps. Don’t forget the spam bots. These are bots that start off being well-behaved but gradually start spamming you. While a single bot can be managed or blocked, the scale of this problem will grow rapidly as more bots get aggressive. Also, beware of the bot that performs a bait-and-switch on the user. It advertises a compelling service upfront but gradually switches over to a different kind of service over time. For example, a content bot could become an ad bot over time. Bots are yet another battlefront in the cat-and-mouse game played between good and bad actors. This new ecosystem must prevent, preempt and prepare for the coming onslaught of the bad bots. They will be here before you know them.”
Pranay Jain of Enterprise Bot states, “Currently, most chatbots you see don’t use any machine learning or artificial intelligence. This means that the accuracy they are able to achieve is much lower. Our entire focus as a company is to look at how we can get the last ounce of accuracy using the latest methods and technology. We believe this will help us always stay at the top of the chain and deliver the most sustainable results for our clients.”
Sachin Jaiswal of niki.ai opines, “We feel that conversations in chatbots should be designed to be as natural as they can be – which requires investment in technology of Natural Language Processing. A quicker way to design is by including buttons for every scenario – thereby creating an artificial look of a conversation – which we feel is a pitfall developers can fall into.”
The business segments likely to gain most from this new trend
Given that messaging is the new paradigm in the consumer tech world, all industries will slowly but surely adopt the user of chatbots. The segments that have seen early adoption are in the customer support, retail and ecommerce space. The traditional customer support over email and phone is a broken process that alienates users. As in the case of every new trend, certain segments in the industry like e-commerce are likely to adopt them faster than others.
As Beerud Sheth of GupShup Technologies foresees, Chatbots have the real potential to disrupt the business-to-customer communication space as it is an efficient, non-intrusive and effective way to solve user’s queries. Players in the retail and e-commerce fields have also innovated using chatbots to their advantage to provide users with a completely fresh shopping experience. One industry that is using chatbots very well is the content-creation industry. Chatbots present an excellent means to distribute content like surveys, resumes and research pieces. Celebs have also created chatbots for themselves for fan interaction!
Ravina Mutha of Enterprise Bot tells, “Chatbots will disrupt call centers in Telecom, Banking and Airlines in the near future. We see great application in wealth management as well but the earliest and largest impacts will be seen in companies and industries that have a large client base where AI-based chatbots will reduce the need for call centers by up to 60% for all the generic queries. Only long tail (queries that are unique) will need to go to call centers.”
Sachin of Jaiswal of niki.ai comments, “It is going to be omnipresent – right from helping you out in your home to driving your cars to doing commerce for you. We at niki.ai are focused on using AI and messaging to cater to anything commerce can. niki.ai will become your go-to-sales assistant who knows every brand out there, and knows you too at the same time, thereby making your buying decision the most convenient that it can be.”
Challenges for the bot developers as well as to the users
Now we are in the early days of the chatbot ecosystem so there definitely will be challenges faced by bot developers as well as end users.
In the words of Beerud Sheth of GupShup Technologies, “One key challenge will be how effectively the tools and platforms meet the requirements of the developer for developing efficient bots. During the early days of the web and app stores, tools and platforms weren’t as sophisticated and user-friendly as they are now. There will be a similar cycle for bots as well until these tools evolve over time. Another key challenge will be bot discoverability. Right now there is no unified bot store and the discovery of bots is very fragmented. That is bound to change in the near future as bots become a more mainstream part of the ecosystem.”
Pranay Jain of Enterprise Bot elaborates, “The most critical challenge to this chatbot technology will remain accuracy. The industry is new to the use of this application and the data of existing customer service logs are generally not formatted in the way required for AI. So any company trying to start an AI-based activity will take 2-3 months to get a system that is accurate and fast. Further, to get users to switch from calling to texting is also a challenge in developed countries but in India this seems to be a much smaller challenge with the large base of youth in our demographic.”
Sachin Jaiswal of niki.ai asserts, “Local language understanding is one challenge. At the same time, language keeps on modifying, so to be able to have language models adapt accordingly is also going to be critical.”
How soon the chatbot usage will become a widespread practice
There are already 1000s of chatbots connected to different websites, though their maturity, technology, functionality, purpose, etc vary from company to company, that are still in the early stages of evolution, but they are evolving rapidly and diversely to meet the varying needs of their users.
According to Beerud Sheth of GupShup Technologies, “Right now, there are thousands of chatbots available on messaging channels already. Many of these bots have growing user bases. Sage, a multi-national accounting firm, launched Hello Pegg, a bot that helps you track expenses. Hi Poncho is a weather bot that is widely used for its accurate weather updates. Slack has many business bots that help automating business workflows that otherwise can be a time sink. Celebrities, brands and sports teams have created bots to enhance their branding and fan interaction. There are also successful bots created for social causes such as the one that overturned 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York. A chatbot also helped homeless people find housing. This is just the tip of the iceberg! A lot more can be expected in the future.”
Pranay Jain of Enterprise Bot believes, “Bots are already present. American Express, ICICI and many others have already launched bots and many others are in the process of doing so. Most bots today are very rule-based and hence deliver a very poor output, but we will see the real use of bots by early 2017 and it will grow significantly by the end of 2017. Their scope and accuracy will keep increasing with the development of self-learning algorithms. We are moving to the next industrial revolution led by artificial intelligence and it will be here, sooner than we think.”
In the words of Sachin Jaiswal of niki.ai, “Utility bots have already started coming up. The adoption is only going to increase further.”
What are your direct experiences in the beneficial use of the chatbots?
Ravina Mutha of Enterprise Bot reveals, “As we have NDAs with all our clients and white-label our technology. We can divulge that we are looking at creating significant cost savings in India and UK in the banking and insurance space by working for some of the largest banks in these countries.
Sachin Jaiswal of niki.ai shares, “niki.ai currently has partners in Utility Bill Payments (Electricity, DTH, DataCard, Postpaid Bills), Mobile Recharge, Cab Bookings, Bus Booking, Food Ordering and Home Services (Laundry). niki.ai has 25+ services in the pipeline for the next 3 months including Hotel Bookings, Flight Bookings, Movie and Events Ticketing, Groceries, Healthcare and several others. niki.ai provides multiple benefits to the partners. Due to the presence of many services on the platform, as well as intelligent cross-sell algorithms of niki.ai, we are able to target customers at the point of sale – leading to a higher conversion, for example, recommending a cab to the airport before a few hours of the flight leads to a much higher conversion to cab bookings for our partners. Since niki.ai has this data, our brands get the benefit of reaching to the customers at the right time. Since niki.ai is a chat-based platform, it’s very light (<4Mb in size) and works seamlessly on all networks (like WhatsApp). This helps our partners to provide a seamless experience to their users, even in 2-tier markets, thereby extending their market reach. Additionally now niki.ai is also available on messenger and with this integration, the company has taken all the partner brands too there. For instance, now users can book a cab even on desktop in our country, which was not possible before. This has opened up a huge acquisition channel for all our partners.”
Pranay Jain, Co-Founder, Enterprise Bot
“For conversational interface, the AI (artificial intelligence) supported virtual assistant is expected to be the way in the coming years. We are already seeing this happen with the evolution of facebook messenger bot platforms with the concepts of smart cards being introduced.”
Ravina Mutha, Co-Founder, Enterprise Bot
“Chatbots will disrupt call centers in Telecom, Banking and Airlines in the near future. The earliest and largest impacts will be seen in companies that have a large client base where AI-based chatbots will reduce the need for call centers by up to 60% for all the generic queries. Only long tail (queries that are unique) will need to go to call centers.”
Beerud Sheth, Co-Founder and CEO, GupShup Technologies Pvt Ltd
“Chatbots have the real potential to disrupt the business-to-customer communication space as it is an efficient, non-intrusive and effective way to solve user’s queries.”
Sachin Jaiswal, CEO, niki.ai
“niki.ai currently has partners in Utility Bill Payments (Electricity, DTH, DataCard, Postpaid Bills), Mobile Recharge, Cab Bookings, Bus Booking, Food Ordering and Home Services (Laundry). Since niki.ai is a chat-based platform, it’s very light (<4Mb in size) and works seamlessly on all networks (like WhatsApp).”