A typology of chatbots: From ordering pizza to talking to the dead

2016 was a funny old year. We lost some of the greats and gained some of the… not so great, Donald I’m looking at you (all views are my own and not that of RE-UP). We had Brexit, we had the Olympics and on New Year’s Eve we had Mariah Carey give up on life.

In social the year seemed to be equally as interesting. We had video of every shape and kind: live video, 360 video and even virtual reality video. We got personal, we got political, hell we even… wait for it… we’ve got artificial intelligence (AI) – that’s right, we now have social robots that talk to us like humans do.

That’s all be behind us now, however. This year it seems we have a new monarch in the world of social media and they goes by the name of chatbots. For a long time brands have been trying to harness the power of this social tool and it seems this year, more than ever before, people are starting to warm to the idea of talking to a robot online.

Chatbots aren’t new

Since the days of MSN’s wonder kid, Smarterchild, people have had conversations online with nothing more than a simple AI. However, as technology advances so too does the interactions we can have with social AI’s and the faux personal conversations that we are having.

This open a window never before seen by marketers. One that turns messaging into a platform for interaction.

Although chatbots have been around in the past they have never been available on the platforms that they now are. In 2016 Facebook and Slack both opening up their messaging platforms to chatbots meaning a much wider reach without the complications of downloading an apps to people’s phones.

Most developers in the AI world are currently trying to create something as human-like as possible, note Jibo, Google assistant and Alexa. AI is becoming more intelligent, but when it comes to brands all consumers are really looking for is simplicity. Something that can create an instant action without creating difficulty or confusion.

Driving the trend:

In a world where (I hate these terms) generation Y and Z spend upwards of 20 hours a week- almost a full day – online. The problem is, with the constant use of smartphones these 20 hours are spread widely across the day. Users have been cited to check their phone more than 1500 times over the week. That means that people are actually checking their phones for 1-2 minutes each time they look.

This is why chatbots are becoming so much more prevalent. Whilst huge advancements in AI are meaning robots are being created robots that have genuine, human-like feelings, on the other end of the scale many chatbots are being created to simplify everyday tasks which people feel take us an unnecessary amount of time.

Working our way down from explicit all the way through to more implicit reasons for chatbots being created, did you know that 75% of ‘millenials’ would rather text than make a phonecall. Or that in 2014, 40% of UK consumers were unhappy with mobile customer experience, believing that mobile shopping isn’t as fast or as easy as shopping on a computer?

Did you know that studies show 60% of students experience loneliness, and that 18-34 year olds are actually more likely to feel lonely often that over-55’s. It definitely isn’t just older generations losing contact with their loved ones that feel lonely.

So from simple explicit tasks such as ordering food on your phone to hyper implicit activities such as combatting loneliness, chatbots have their place in today’s society. Well, in a world of AI, is it possible to replicate human interaction without actually having to talk to people?

Chatbots to replace customer care

With mobile and social media, consumers are now always switched on and demand immediate responsiveness when it comes to complaints of questions about their products. Customer care could not be more difficult in the 21 century; do it right and no one notices, do it wrong and everyone knows about it.

Traditional help desks take time and a lot of effort to respond and usually slow down the whole process, creating a disorganised experience for support reps. This is where chatbots come in; assisting in solving the simple ‘FAQ’ type questions, leaving sales reps more time to to focus on complex problems. Let’s be clear here, chatbots will probably never take over the role of customer care, but they will help enormously by weeding out the simple problems that end up wasting a lot employee time.

Conversational commerce

Last year at Facebook F8 conference CEO, Mark Zuckerberg expressed his desire for consumers to “be able to message a business in the same way you message a friend”. This rise of conversational commerce has been a long time coming.

Which should ordering be such a pain? With chatbots such as the one I will mention in a minute, consumers become the ones with the power, again.

These bots take away all the pains of ordering one or, god forbid, having to talk to someone on the phone. How much easier would it be buying products if it was done over FaceBook chat, with your friend on other other side of your screen.These ‘order bots’ take the best bits of both onlien shopping (the ease of access and lack of having to talk to someone) and ordering over the phone (the simplicity and speed) and combine into one, all singing, all dancing, chatbot.

Picture this. It’s Sunday morning, you’ve had a few too many the night before and the last thing you want to do is actually ring up the restaurant and talk to someone. Here’s where Dom comes in. All you have to do is message the little guy (not really a guy) on Facebook chat and he will order you a pizza to your doorstep. Simple as that, and he’s even got his own unique tone-of-voice to make you feel at ease.

Chatbots to replicate friendship

Okay, so chatbots are never going to be as funny as your best friends, but who says they need to be as robotic as your HR manager at work? Within intelligent chatbots such as Siri and Alexa having been born it’s no longer just about function, you have have fun with them as well.

Try typing in ‘funniest things to’ into google, the first suggestion is ‘funniest things to ask Siri’. That little bot trapped inside your iPhone does more than just google, it has its own personality. For example, try asking Siri what zero divided by zero – you’ll be hard pressed not to laugh at the answer.

Like I said, these bots are never going to replace your friends, but they will definitely keep you amused whilst you’re bored at home. They become less chatbots and more procrastination bots. Siri and Alexa need no introduction so I won’t explain what they are, but they both prove that chatbots are becoming more than something to provide a function and are beginning to replicate online friendships.

Chatbots to replace loved ones

This is as farfetched as it gets ladies and gent. We all have out individual ways of speaking, typing or texting. Now imagine a chatbot can take all of our online conversations and replicate our own tone of voice. Something you can upload and talk to.

Over the past six months a couple of apps have popped up in which you can upload the social content of your loved ones – these are usually aimed at recently deceased – giving you the chance to talk to dead people… well, as close as humanly possible with our current technology.

This shows us two things:

  1. How advanced technology is coming in creating so called ‘faux-personas’ online.
  2. How realistic and intelligent chatbots are becoming when being used for things other than marketing.

Late last year Luke CEO, Eugenia Kuyda created a memorial chatbot for her deceased from. The bot, aptly titled Memorial, downloaded thousands of the friends text messages in order to create to right tone of voice. The outcome is both parts genius and terrifying. No one can ever argue the realisticness of the bot because everything it says has come from a human’s hand. You can even chat to Prince!

They’re taking over!

There’s a vast range of chabot’s out there and many many more to come. Technology is advancing quickly and people are now, more than ever beginning to warn to the idea. Hayley Tillson of Domino’s last week cited that when ‘Dom the pizzabot’ was created 60% of people that discovered the bot used it to order, and from that 50% of those became repeat users.

Popularity of these bots is increasing through a number of things. During F8 several weeks ago Facebook launched the ‘Discovery’ tab, which makes it considerably easier to find chatbots and gives brands a great opportunity to build a relationship with already interested consumers.

Bots are becoming more intelligent, more popular and more widespread. If you don’t like then, you might want to take a step back from the internet for a little while… or forever.

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