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Go ahead and laugh, but chatbots matter. Be ready now

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INNOVATION Media Consulting recommends: We in media have an unfortunate history of pooh-poohing new tech, and then being late to the party (“This internet thing is a passing fad.”) Chatbots are the latest party, and it’s already a rocking affair. You can laugh. You can have your doubts. You can point to the failures (did you really think a new tech wouldn’t have failures?) What you cannot do is sit back and wait.

These things are going to be everywhere. They are going to replace social media as the primary communication tool between people. Unfortunately, aside from a few adventurous pioneers, most media companies are sitting on the sidelines. Brands — your advertisers — are not. 

***INNOVATION Media Consulting are the authors of the FIPP/IMC Innovation in Magazine Media World Report (find out more here), help media companies around the world transform (read their Hanley Wood case study here) and present at conferences (FIPP included) around the world. Want them to present at your event? Contact them here***

“Aside from technology leaders, large companies from sectors such as finance (Royal Bank of Scotland), toy manufacturing (Mattel), food (Domino’s), media (Disney) and the automotive industry (Renault) now actively use chatbots to initiate dialogues and spur conversations with customers,” wrote Mariya Yao on LinkedIn. Yao is head of design at TopBot, a digital agency specialising in chatbot and conversational experiences. 

Other businesses like HP, Taco Bell and 1-800-Flowers are also experimenting with “conversational commerce” by employing chatbots on messaging platforms to drive sales

“It’s a rare moment when it becomes clear that a technological revolution is upon us, and I believe we’re in the midst of one such transition right now,” wrote Chris Messina in Medium last fall. “Even if you haven’t realised it yet, bots are everywhere. If you’ve ever talked to Siri, scheduled an appointment over email with someone named Amy Ingram, or set up a team meeting with a curiously helpful assistant in Slack, you’ve already had a close encounter with a bot!”

Media companies can now insert themselves into the places (messaging apps) where their readers are already hanging out in great numbers.

If media companies reach consumers on a messaging app with a chatbot, the reader doesn’t have to stop what they’re doing (messaging), they just use the same messaging app to interact with the publisher. There’s no opening a new app or launching a browser and finding the media company’s website.

“No one wants to have to install a new app for every business or service that they want to interact with,” Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the 2016 F8 developer conference. “We think that you should just be able to message a business in the same way that you message a friend.”

We will not have a tough sell on our hands. Almost 9 out of 10 consumers (89 per cent) would prefer to quickly find information via a conversation with a chatbot rather than having to open a mobile app or do a web search on their own, according to a 2016 study by Opus Research and Nuance Communications.

Additionally, we won’t be blazing a new trail. WeChat has bots for users to shop or pay bills. Facebook Messenger has bots that provide the same kinds of services you’d have to go to multiple websites or apps for: weather forecasts, news updates, flower deliveries. 

Bots can outperform some humans

Chatbots can also go beyond answering questions. If, for example, you asked a chatbot which new movies were opening this weekend, the chatbot could not only give you the titles, but it also could smartly recognise you probably would appreciate getting directions, and knowing the screening times, parking information, and perhaps nearby restaurants, without requiring the consumer to ask those additional questions — something that might not occur to a human customer service rep.

Beyond that, chatbots answer questions instantly. We all know what it’s like to be put on hold when we call customer service, or wait for hours or even days to get a reply to our enquiry posted on a company’s “Contact us” site!

Innovation in Magazine Media 2017-2018 World Report: Chatbots (FIPP)

Chatbots are a super-efficient use of resources

Chatbots are easily the most scalable way to communicate with consumers. Period. If the choice is between one writer or customer service rep talking to one person at a time, or a bot talking to or solving problems for tens, hundreds or even thousands of people simultaneously, which would you choose? 

Of course, not all consumer interactions should be automated, but many can be. And humans can (and do) monitor chatbot interactions with consumers at some companies, ready to jump in if need be.

Media companies including Time’s People, Variety and New Media Express (NME), as well as Sky News, the Nikkei Asian Review, the Guardian, Washington Post, and New York Times have all launched chat bots.

Chatbots are exploding

In just five months after Facebook Messenger enabled bots in the spring of 2016, more than 30,000 bots were created, outpacing Apple’s App Store in both growth rate and number of developers.

Here are some of the types of bots:

• Personal finance bot

• Weather bot

• Scheduling bot 

• Grocery bot

• News bot

• Life advice bot

• Local services chatbot to, for example, order a taxi, make restaurant reservations, book a hotel room

Last word. If you still have any doubts about the viability of chatbots, consider this: 24 per cent of the 40 million users of that Xiaoice chatbot in China and Japan have told ‘her” that they love “her”. That’s ten million people who “love” a robot. 

Don’t risk falling behind. Make someone the chatbot champion. Initially it doesn’t need to be a full-time position; just find an intellectually curious, digitally savvy staffer and give him or her a few hours a week to come up with a recommendation. Do it today.

About chatbots

Chatbots are interactive text or voice apps that live on messaging apps and that can ask and answer consumer questions. There are two types of chatbots, one is based on rules and can only respond to very specific commands with preprogrammed answers. If a consumer says or types the “wrong” words or asks a question the chatbot wasn’t programmed to answer, the bot doesn’t know what to do. This so-called “rule-based” bot is only as smart as it is programmed to be and cannot get any smarter. The other type of chatbot uses machine learning, or basically an artificial brain, AKA artificial intelligence (AI). So users do not have to ask precisely the right question. Machine-learning bots understand language, not just pre-programmed phrases, and they continuously get smarter as they learn from every conversation.

***INNOVATION Media Consulting are the authors of the FIPP/IMC Innovation in Magazine Media World Report (find out more here), help media companies around the world transform (read their Hanley Wood case study here) and present at conferences (FIPP included) around the world. Want them to present at your event? Contact them here***

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