Chatbots’ capabilities seem to be extending and expanding weekly. They can help consumers bank easier, ship and track gifts quicker, plan a vacation with less stress and even talk to those who have passed away.
Now, chatbots can even help plan a party.
Beverage company Pernod Ricard launched a chatbot bartender that helps party hosts create cocktails for their event. Dubbed the “Cocktail Coach,” the chatbot serves up recipes, facts and mixing concepts based on taste preferences and the size of the event. It also links customers to an online supermarket where they can then click through to purchase all those “bot-selected” ingredients.
“Chatbots are smart mechanisms that deliver instructions and how-tos to users,” said Jonathan Shriftman, director of BD, Snaps. “This bot also makes it simple to buy ingredients right in the chat, which is an especially helpful feature during this always busy time of year.”
But is this “entertaining bot” just entertaining an interest? While this bot may be helpful to party hosts, Pernod Ricard and some grocery retailers, it begs the question if bots are moving us forward.
Amazon recently launched three AI-related endeavors: Lex, Rekognition and Polly. They are focused, respectively, on helping developers use AI in the realms of voice and text applications, image and analysis detection and “lifelike” voices through dozens of languages.
“Amazon’s announced advances in AI demonstrate yet another example of the value businesses are putting on the power of machine learning. Abilities like natural language processing (NLP), which power chatbots like Alexa, are markers of an industry-wide race to better serve customers through AI,” said Scott Horn, CMO of 7. “When used in a retail context, AI automates assistance on the front lines of customer service, saving human agents for higher-stake scenarios, such as for retention and upselling purposes. These advances are not only applauded by businesses but also by customers.”
Horn said that, according to 7’s new customer experience study, which surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers, two in five consumers are open to interacting with a chatbot in a retail scenario, and nearly one-third of them (28.9 percent) prefer it over phone or email. Ultimately, he added, this level of adoption points to a profitable opportunity for retailers as they consider future CX investments.
So, the argument for chatbots churns along, and fortuitously. But some argue that chatbots will kill apps. With apps eating up lots of storage and battery, some experts say that chatbots will eventually take over the app space.
“With mobile app downloads dropping and ad blockers rising, it’s become increasingly harder for brands to engage with consumers through native apps,” said Erez Baum, cofounder and CEO of Imperson. “Messaging apps, on the other hand, are where people spend a majority of their time on mobile, with more than 2 billion active users around the world.”
Baum argued that chatbots are indeed emerging as a new form of consumer engagement and offer a unique opportunity for brands and businesses to drive personalized one-on-one dialogues and long-term relationships with their customers at scale. But unlike apps, chatbots are conversation-driven so they require unique personality infused with authentic brand voice.
Codrin Arsene, chief content strategist at Content Hackers, adamantly said that chatbots won’t kill apps.
“I have seen various tech writers declare the death of mobile applications as a result of the rise in popularity of chatbots. This is nothing more than a sensationalist, shortsighted perspective,” said Arsene. “Let’s be clear: The excitement around chatbots comes from the ability to access information as quickly as possible without having to think about how to find it through a call center, on a mobile app or on a website. The appeal of instant gratification is really exciting for all of us closely following the latest advancements in chatbot technologies.”
He added that chatbots, at least in the foreseeable future, will be limited in scope and complexity and that they may provide instant gratification for specific use cases.
But not everyone agrees. However, there are exceptions.
Shriftman said app fatigue is real, and chatbots will overthrow apps — almost completely.
“That being said, Facebook Messenger is probably the one ‘app’ in the West that will transcend other apps,” said Shriftman. “It allows users to get utility and services, have fun through games and, of course, engage in mobile commerce, all on one single platform.”
And so, ultimately, as experts weigh the opinions, pros and cons, perhaps chatbots will find their home somewhere in between.
“So, bots are best suited to a space in between apps and human support, to take care of routine processes — like paying bills or updating addresses — where the chances of a misunderstanding are low but the frequency of people doing this is also low, which means that the option might get buried in the menus of an app,” said Rurik Bradbury, global head of research at LivePerson. “Giving people a faster path to routine features, instead of searching through an app’s menus, is where bots can add value in the foreseeable future.”