Article

Srinivas Balasubramanian
Srinivas Balasubramanian 25 August 2016

Rewriting the Rules of Engagement: Chatbots and Conversational Interfaces

Enter the chatbots! And a tantalizing new generation of cognitive digital experiences is possible.

Need a ride? Search for Uber in Facebook Messenger, simply tap the car icon, and you’re on your way. Want a pizza? Just send a tweet or Facebook message to your favorite pizzeria. Tell the chatbot you want pepperoni on it. Or bacon. Or anything you like. Simplifies life for consumers, doesn’t it?

What is a Chatbot?

You might think of chatbots as Intelligent Assistants that help users perform a desired action. But that would be grossly undervaluing them. Chatbots are real-time, data-driven answer engines that talk in natural language and are context aware. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella calls this “conversation as a platform” and has centered their strategy around the concept. Powered by artificial intelligence technologies, chatbots mimic human dialogue to deliver a personalized one-to-one interaction.

No, bots don’t replace human communication. They do, however, replace app-hopping and awkward interactions with automated phone operators, both of which can be tiring experiences for consumers.

At Photon, we use the term “conversational interfaces” for this human-centered technology that makes it faster and easier for customers to use your service. Chatbots deliver customer value in both sales and the engagement side and foster your hard-won customer relationships.

Conversational Commerce

There’s a growing trend where brands and businesses are attempting to interact with consumers through conversational interfaces, like Facebook Messenger bots, leveraging consumers’ love for messaging apps, the convenience offered by mobile, and recent advances in artificial intelligence. Whether you’re hailing a taxi, ordering food delivery, buying movie tickets, tracking your transactions, getting medical guidance, or shopping for the latest fashions, commerce experiences are becoming more conversational and customers are loving it. But how can you use them, you ask?

5 Slick Conversational Commerce Use Cases to Gear Up Your Omnichannel Strategy

  1. Re-define customer service—let chatbots help your customers place orders via their favorite social messaging platforms and make relevant recommendations, before offering to complete the order
  2. Improve eCommerce experiences by introducing a conversational interface that answers customer queries about products, assists with searching catalogs, and reduces human agent interaction
  3. Give your customers the ability to get assistance without disrupting their journey or leaving your mobile app, game, or online experience by enabling access to from within those experiences
  4. Offer a conversational and next-gen navigational experience to customers instead of making them find information via a search tab or drop-down menu
  5. Improve customer intelligence by logging and storing key data points, which can be later used to personalize the omnichannel experience and even optimize product development

Chatbot Design

From the customer experience (CX) perspective, designing “conversational interfaces” is NOT like designing a mobile app. The lifecycle of such an interface is based on implicit launchers, intents, and actions before ending—not based on explicit launchers or actions. Think about it more like designing a search engine interface for a recordkeeping system than designing a form-based UI. That’s as different as it gets.

At Photon, we have been speaking about the post-mobile era for over two years now. While we’ve envisioned that apps would be more ubiquitous, we also anticipated that they would be hidden behind speech-based chatbot and IoT interfaces. Today we are creating Amazon Echo and Facebook Messenger chatbot integrations for some of the most mature customer-facing platforms and APIs, including Fortune 500 retail and banking leaders.

The rise of conversational interfaces is dramatically changing both the user experience and the interaction with every brand. Given the popularity of the iPhone and Siri (one of the most well-known chatbots), Apple’s recent announcement of SiriKit (Siri SDKs)changes the game significantly for app developers wishing to access the voice agent’s skills.

If chatbots and Intelligent Assistants aren’t on your technology adoption watchlist yet, they should be. A conversational interface may be an essential addition to your brand’s digital toolkit.

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject, so please leave a comment. Feel free to reach out to me to discuss chatbots further!

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