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The Chat Bot Boom Is About To Catch Fire

Photo of Karol Severin
by Karol Severin

The mobile community eagerly awaits the F8 event next week to see whether rumours come true about Facebook launching a Messenger Bot Store and potentially roll out a Chat SDK which would allow developers to build their own bots for Messenger. However, mobile messaging platform KIK beat Facebook’s Messenger to it when it rolled out its Bot Shop allowing developers to build bots on Tuesday. Though hosting only 16 bots at the moment, with the likes of The Weather Channel, H&M or Vine, it is in line with the messaging industry’s consensually bullish approach to the future of bots within their business models.

The Chat Bot Opportunity

The MIDiA Messaging Platforms Report had the cumulative monthly active users of mobile messaging platforms at 4.8 billion in October 2015. The global messaging penetration and usage are constantly increasing. This is a cumulative number of users, who often use a combination of these services for different purposes. The more services double down on their bot strategies, the more doors open for brands to directly communicate with and help consumers – regardless of which platform they decide to chat on. The vision of one-to-one attention from brands to masses wherever they are is of course an attractive one and there shall be no shortage of interest from brands deploying bots. But for consumers to adopt bot usage, the execution will be key. With Facebook possibly releasing the Chat Bot SDK to all developers in the near future, there is a risk of many brands rushing to jump on the chat bot bandwagon at the expense of their bots’ quality. Facebook will have to be careful with the curation of bots to avoid an overflow of sub-par bots- but the brands will have to do their part too in designing those experiences.

Chatbots Are Still At A Very Early Stage

Though chat bots do ‘work’, their functionality (for example on KIK) is mostly limited to a guided ‘automated helpline-like’ experience on the smartphone screen:

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The point is, however big the opportunity clearly is, it will take time before chat bots alone feel real enough not to get giggled at when they are used.

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Facebook for example is aware of this. With M, it’s keeping its human co-support alive to ensure the best possible all-around messaging companion experience for end users. Until bots become a lot more advanced, the combination of approved Bots and M will hope to pull together the best of the two worlds for Facebook. While standalone bots will be great for straight forward requests, such as content delivery (e.g. @dailycute), or playing games (@fbchess), more complex requests and conversations could be handled by M.

Brands must be careful to judge how much interaction their product or service realistically requires. In some cases human supervision might be well worth having in combination with bots to ensure the perfect experience in the messaging realm. During the coming hype it will be important to remember that the ultimate goal for brands is to tap into the massive messaging user base, not to build the smartest bot. Thus, the most successful bot-betting brands won’t necessarily be the ones with the most advanced bots, but those who can deliver the best consumer experience to messaging users-be it at the cost of employing a number of humans to supervise. If brands overestimate what bots can do alone, in a bid to save money, they are running a risk of customers simply laughing at them and never using the bot again after their first ‘grotesque’ experience.

The opportunity to reach hundreds millions of users at the right time and place with a helpful proposition is indisputably not one to miss. Chat bots and messaging platforms are now opening the door to this opportunity. There is mainstream potential to chat bots, but if too many negative/humorous user experiences prevail in the early hype days, and consumers assign such reputation to chat bots, this could significantly slow the adoption and potentially leave chat bots in their current niche stage for years to come.

Stay tuned for my follow up post next week on who will be the winners and losers of the Chat Bot Boom.

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