Is The Chatbot 'Revolution' All Talk?

After Facebook’s Chatbots hit a 70% failure rate, what does the future hold?

Chatbots have been one of the stand out technologies of the last couple of years, and have brought major disruption to businesses. The AI powered conversational interfaces live inside apps, usually interacting with users via text and infographics. They are currently used in a plethora of industries from retail to healthcare, as well as simply for entertainment. Within business, chatbots serve a number of different purposes. This includes handling customer queries, helping employees themselves and relaying important data analysis. It’s no wonder that companies have flocked to develop their own chatbots. Unfortunately, the hype has created a quantity over quality scenario. As digital business becomes saturated with conversational interfaces, the creation of so many chatbots is seriously damaging their potential. But what can businesses do to overcome this and make the most out of their chatbots?

The end of the hype
The hype around chatbots encouraged businesses to develop and use the technology without fully understanding its potential and shortcomings. It’s all very well creating a chatbot, but is there any point if it doesn’t provide a relevant service, or worse, fails to provide one at all? This month, Facebook announced it will reconsider its use of bots in light of a 70% failure rate. In other words, only 30% of bots could respond to queries without human intervention. As well as this, there are now more than 33,000 bots for Messenger alone. It’s becoming harder and harder for companies to stand out in the chatbot crowd and pursue successful marketing strategies.

According to the Gartner Hype Cycle, there are five main stages in a technology’s evolution – innovation, inflated expectations, disillusionment, enlightenment and finally a ‘productivity plateau’, which refers to mainstream adoption. Chatbots are now experiencing phase three, in which the technology fails to live up to the hype of the second stage. One of the main issues causing apathy towards chatbots is their inability to address customer needs. As consumers begin to interact with bots, their commands become more colloquial. Unfortunately, many interfaces can’t understand this type of language yet, leading to disappointment and frustration. Ironically, the potential fate of chatbots seems to mirror the continuing debate over the relevance of apps. Instead of replacing them, chatbots are now in much the same boat. However, just like apps, bots still have the potential to greatly enhance business operations. And they’re still seeing huge investment, too. For example, this February the chatbot startup Cleo received $700,000 in funding from notable figures including the founder of Skype.

How can businesses make chatbots work for them?
Surviving the third phase of the Gartner Hype Cycle relies on a better understanding of how chatbots can benefit businesses. In other words, developers and companies need to work out what their chatbots are really for. Without a defined purpose to work towards, the conversational interfaces simply won’t meet expectations and are unlikely to achieve wider adoption. There’s a clear need to create high quality chatbots that impress consumers rather than disappoint them. The 2016 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report flags three distinct tech trends which will cause major disruption over the next decade. Alongside immersive experiences and the platform revolution, smart machine technologies have been identified as the most disruptive of all. In the perceptual smart machine age of big data and advanced deep neural networks, there’s potential for chatbots to become so much more. This almost entirely relies on the willingness of businesses in taking the time and effort to put together a successful product. . . before releasing what is essentially an underdeveloped prototype. It’s also vital that chatbots are marketed efficiently so that people actually know they exist.

In short, chatbots will only survive if they can deliver a quality service. It’s not that developers don’t have the necessary tools to make quality chatbots – it’s that companies have been far too eager to jump on the bandwagon. In the midst of the chatbot craze, it’s been easy for businesses to forget that quality should always come before quantity. Without a defined purpose and relevant offering, bots become pretty much obsolete. It’s not all bad, though. The companies that invest in quality conversational interfaces now have an opportunity to stand out from the exhaustive chatbot crowd. Although bots seem to be heading down the same uncertain road as apps, they still trundle on defiantly despite the number of publications that have hailed their death. Perhaps, with careful development and application, chatbots will be able to do the same.

Does your business use chatbots as part of customer relations? Is the chatbot craze at an end? Could chatbots still replace apps? Share your thoughts and opinions.