What Are Bots and How Do They Work
Is your boss grilling you about bots? If she hasn't yet, chances are she is going to very soon.
Research shows over 50% of businesses are looking to implement a chatbot strategy within the next 12 months. Why? Because bots are changing the world.
Bots are taking over, helping to make both our private and professional lives more efficient. In early 2016, we wrote 'build bots, not apps'. I like to think many followed our advice (pats on back) and today bots are officially here.
We will divide this article into the two obvious sections, starting with...
What are bots?
On a very high level, a bot is conversational software.
They are computer programs capable of understanding a query (question, command, order, etc.) from a human (or another bot, inception) and deliver the appropriate response (answer, action, etc.).
At ubisend, we build chatbots. The particularity of chatbots lies in communication. You interact with a chatbot through an interface and dialogue.
Right now, you might be thinking 'wait, I know that. I've used bots for years. Siri is a bot, isn't it? How is that a new thing?'
You're right. Chatbots have been around for years. The difference is, today, chatbots are benefit from incredible advances in technology and democratised access.
Essentially, compared to Siri and the other bots you may have used over the last few years, chatbots today are more intelligent and easier to build for businesses.
Over the last year or so, messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, Kik, and WeChat have opened up to allow developers to code chatbots.
This helped with both the democratisation of chatbots (free access to anyone who wants to give coding a try) and widespread of chatbot awareness (today, 57% of UK consumers know what a chatbot is - grab the 2017 Chatbot Report for more insights).
It also means you can now find chatbots on pretty much all the platforms you most likely use, from Skype to Facebook Messenger. Depending on where you live in the world, you are more likely to use one platform over another.
Let's take a brief detour to talk about why chatbots are getting so much traction - and why businesses should care.
We touched on two reasons earlier: the technology advances have made highly intelligent programs possible and messaging applications have opened up API access to their platforms.
What else affected this revolution?
Above all, consumer behaviour has had a tremendous impact on the trend. Sure, the technology was suddenly available but consumers actively wanting to use chatbots in their day-to-day life made bots take off.
Our research found that 35% of consumers want more businesses using chatbots.
We have the trifecta: technology, access, and demand.
How do they work?
How do bots work? That's a big question!
From a technical point of view, there is a lot that goes into making a chatbot work. We touch on this in many blog posts. The best way to approach this, for now, is to read through our Essential Chatbot Glossary (for Non-Geeks) post. Focus on the first four definitions (chatbot, utterance, intent, and entity), then drill down through the blog posts I suggest below.
From a consumer point of view, bots are extremely simple to use. In a way, a bot works the same way an actual assistant would.
All you need to do is find the bot that suits your need and interact with it to make it work. For instance, prompting a weather chatbot with a simple sentence like 'What is the weather in London?' will return a simple answer.
That is how chatbots work from a user point of view.
To find bots to play with, refer to your platform of choice. As you are most likely a Facebook Messenger user (after all, over 1 billion people are), you can find bots by firing up your app and clicking on the search bar at the very top.
On the new screen, you might see your recently active friends at the very top, and below a list of bots to play with.
If you'd like to understand how bots work from a technical point of view, I would like to refer you to these two articles.
What is a chatbot (to understand the basics)
How to make a chatbot that learns (for a more advanced understanding)
Why should you (and your business) care?
Good question. Why should you? Is it really such an amazing opportunity that you would need to drop everything and focus on developing a chatbot for your business?
I believe so.
Our research showed consumers now expect businesses to have some form of automated channel they can talk to 24/7.
Today's consumer no longer wants to wait for a callback or hold on the line. Your customers want to interact with your brand when they need it - not when you are open or willing to respond.
Additional research shows consumers are even willing to spend money through a chatbot. Millennials (20-something to 30-something year olds) are willing to spend up to £481 through a chatbot - zero human interaction required.
As a company, adopting a chatbot strategy today makes sense. By 2020, 80% of business will have a chatbot solution implemented (source).
Act now or play catch up?