A chatbot is software capable of conversing with a user in natural language, understanding the user’s intentions and responding according to the guidelines given by the company or based on the data it has. A.I. helps the chatbot better understand the context and tone of the conversation.
Chatbots: what they are
A chatbot is a program designed to simulate human behavior during conversations and, therefore, able to interact with the user via text or voice.
Precisely because they can respond to user requests, collect data from the user, query the user, and interact with the user, chatbots have so many applications now, even in very different fields. In the most common cases they are integrated on corporate sites or specially developed for major instant messaging apps such as Messenger or Telegram and, from customer care to medical assistance passing the world of personal assistants, they are part of the daily experience of hundreds of users.
For a brief history of chatbots
How, however, does a chatbot work? Underlying it is a principle dating back to the 1950s, what is known as the Turing test. Perhaps rightly considered the father – theoretically, at least – of artificial intelligence, Turing in fact devised a criterion that evaluated a program’s ability to simulate human participation in a real-time, written conversation: the more difficult it was to clearly distinguish human from machine based only on the content of the conversation, the more functional the program turned out to be. The forerunner of modern chatbots was thus ELIZA, a program developed by MIT between 1964 and 1966. ELIZA was able to recognize cue words, anchor words, that allowed it to guess the meaning of the human issuer’s produced sentence and formulate based on these pre-programmed responses that would succeed in moving the conversation forward. Just to give an example: if the input sentence contained the word “mother,” likely the bot was able to produce a response that had to do with the semantic field of family (likely, a sentence such as “tell me more about your family”). The mechanism, in short, is cumulative: the further the conversation between human and machine goes, the more the latter should be able to recognize the most relevant cue words and, thus, provide useful responses to the interaction.
How to design a functional chatbot?
This is enough to understand then that to program a chatbot, at least in its beta version, one does not need to be a skilled programmer. There are, indeed, numerous online services and platforms that allow anyone to build their own chatbot by themselves: all you need is to be able to think of a flowchart and work out, based on this, paths of possible questions/answers. A very useful model in this regard, whether you design your own amateur chatbot yourself or outsource the design of a corporate chatbot to professionals, could be the one normally used in website or app design: the DBA model, or Design-Building-Analytics. Chatbot design is, in this sense, the very first phase of the design of such a program, the one deputed to define the type and mode of interaction that will take place between users and chatbot. The chatbot designer will have to determine the personality of the chatbot (almost literally its character, the language it will use, etc.), the type of questions it will answer, and so on. The construction of the chatbot, at this point, may involve the use of different platforms and specially designed tools but, above all, it should never give up the testing phase which is the only one that can ensure a good match between input received from the user to output produced by the chatbot. Analysis and monitoring of the chatbot are also essential, if we especially consider the valuable insights, they can give and should be used to improve the user experience.
Chatbots vs. Apps: some preliminary considerations
Before listing the possible fields of application of chatbots, for that matter, it is worth understanding the reasons for their success, compared to simple apps for example. It is indeed true that mobile apps continue to be created and downloaded, but those who have tried to track digital trends for the immediate future seem quite convinced that these may soon be replaced by bots themselves.
The reasons? They have to do with the “ease of use” and “speed” that these can ensure. Simplifying to the bone, in fact, as opposed to apps, chatbots do not need to be downloaded and installed on one’s devices and, whether used in the context of an instant messaging app or instead on one’s corporate site, they do not interrupt but rather enrich and make the user experience more all-encompassing.
Possible fields of application for chatbots
As mentioned, chatbots have many potential applications.
- The first, and perhaps most explored so far, is for customer service. Indeed, the revolutions in customer service that have occurred in recent years are there for all to see, with companies that regardless of the industry in which they operate have now realized the importance of always proving themselves accessible and in all places. If we add to this study such as Ubisend’s 2016 Mobile Messaging Report, which confirm that a good percentage of users prefer to talk to companies through messaging apps and chat systems, it is not surprising then that among the best and most functional chatbots are precisely those deputed to customer care and developed to be compatible with the main instant messaging services.
- More generally, however, customer facing is to date the main area of application for enterprise chatbots. Even when they are not specifically dedicated to pre-sales or post-sales service, enterprise chatbots are often thought of as an extra point of contact between brand and consumer, within a customer journey that includes more and more stages. From luxury brands’ chatbots that act as personal shoppers to the various solutions implemented in the food tech sphere that, for example, make food delivery even faster and more personalized, the goal of similar solutions-indeed, it should be said-is to humanize the relationship between company and customer.
- However, there is also no shortage of notable cases of using chatbots for internal communication. In the daily routine of a company, of an organization there are in fact several time-consuming processes that if automated could be more efficient: this is what a chatbot that handles sick leave requests made by Overstock employees can be used for, for example.
- Even entertainment is among the macro-areas that have proven to be experimental ground for chatbots over the years. For example, Mattel has released a version of its iconic doll, Hello Barbie, which when connected to the Internet can interact with toddlers via a chatbot precisely. And there are bots dedicated to popular TV series that allow people to interact with their favorite characters or to discover all the secrets of the fictional universe in question.
- It is easy to see, then, how chatbots are well predisposed to act as personal assistants. No matter how complex and important their tasks may be, there are chatbots that can manage the user’s finances and choose the best outfit even based on the weather forecast or, of course, manage agendas, book planes and trains, find a soulmate, etc.
- What may not be imagined, however, are the applications of chatbots in the field of medicine, understood in the broadest sense of the term. The application of artificial intelligence to the field of health, after all, has been in the spotlight for years, and chatbots capable of giving initial medical advice to their users are but a natural consequence of it.
In the future of chatbots, then? There will be increasing integration with existing instant messaging systems: if up to now, in fact, companies had developed chatbots that were proprietary and ideal to be used within their sites, for example, the trend will now be to think about chatbots that can be integrated with Messenger, WhatsApp, etc. They will also try to monetize, more than they already do, the use of chatbots. Almost paradoxically, human-to-human relationships (conversations, in this case) will be enhanced as a result. Consider the application of chatbots in the field of customer care: likely, one will turn to a bot for the simplest and most ordinary tasks, while for more complex or emergency tasks the human input will remain unchanged, which translated means a greater emphasis given precisely to meaningful interactions.
It’s time to create your own chatbot. Contact Enkronos today and let’s start your chatbot project.