Chatbots

Chatbot Tracker: Set And Forget

Would a chatbot by any other name still be as helpful?

LinkedIn’s nearly 470 million users will soon find out (if they haven’t already). The professional social network is in the process of unrolling the redesign of its desktop site, set to be made available globally over the next few weeks.

The push comes as part of acquirer Microsoft’s initiative to get more of its members to use the site as a source for media consumption — both external and native, LinkedIn-generated and -curated content, said TechCrunch. The new website design reportedly comes with a streamlined, app-like user interface as well as updated search features, and enhancements to the website’s private messaging and public feed functions.

But the biggest change (for our purposes) is that LinkedIn will be adding a chatbot functionality. Sort of.

LinkedIn isn’t calling it a chatbot — and it doesn’t seem to have a snappy personalized name as of yet. For now, it’s a feature within LinkedIn’s larger online messaging service upgrade.

Its functionality is reportedly a bit more limited than some of the chattier chatbots out there — but it’s a start. The new feature works to enable on-site conversations between professionals, suggesting icebreakers or even whom to contact to get started and help schedule meetings by comparing users’ calendars.

Whether this is a vamped up “Clippy” for the business social network crowd or the start of some something greater in the chatbot space for LinkedIn is yet to be seen.

But since its addition comes as part of a greater push to increase user engagement, it seems more likely that the social network’s “chatbot” will fall into the latter camp as chatbots continue to be one of the hottest website additions into 2017. More will be known as LinkedIn’s rollout throughout the year.

Elsewhere in the ecosystem, chatbots continue to attempt to fill every available niche, nook and cranny (or whatever the digital equivalent of those are) where there’s space and a growing need for increasing user engagement.

For starters, one of Singapore’s oldest legacy banks, POSB Bank, recently broke into the chatbot game with the launch of its POSB digibank Virtual Assistant — dVA for short. The dVA is reportedly powered by the conversational artificial intelligence platform created by a New York–based FinTech startup Kasisto.

POSB’s chatbot — which can answer user questions relating to account information, balance inquiries, bill payments and fund transfer requests — is currently live on Facebook Messenger, with upcoming releases planned, said Banking Tech, for WhatsApp and WeChat. The dVA bot comes with learning capabilities, so as it’s used, it will grow the number of requests it is able to process.

Likewise, Facebook Messenger added another bot to its cohort of well over 30,000 in the form of a chatbot for budget traveling enabler BoltFare, which allows users to find cheap flights by entering departure and destination airports and selecting general travel times — anytime, this summer, next year, etc.

BoltFare’s bot tracks fares and notifies users when cheap flights are found. The bot tracks one potential trip at a time for free users. To track more than one, users are prompted to upgrade to track prices on an unlimited number of destinations.

While the use of travel fare aggregates might reveal more immediate results, BoltFare allows for a more hands-off approach to travel planning — and actually provides a clear example of one of the main selling points for a bot-heavy future.

It’s not as if many chatbots provide services that are unique or otherwise unavailable. Users can use weather apps to read a forecast (sorry, Poncho) and banking apps to track balances. Chatbot functionality can appear redundant at times.

But the automation factor — particularly the “set it and forget it” aspect that bots like BoltFare provide — could prove to be the characteristic that draws more users in as chatbots proliferate. That and the messenger-native quality, of course.

While, in reality, this saves minutiae of time per session, reducing app-switching friction by any amount could add up to a better consumer experience in the long run. Especially if (or when) the collective chatbot ecosystem’s kinks are smoothed out.

Until that time, consumers engaging with chatbots still need to choose their words wisely lest they confuse the still-learning artificial intelligence behind the scenes.

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