Chatbots: What You Need To Know To Succeed

Chatbots: What You Need To Know To Succeed

Believe it or not, chatbots have been around for several decades. We just haven’t noticed. You could even say they went mainstream as early as 1966 when researchers at MIT created ELIZA, that cute little computer program that talked back to you.

Today, they are quite the rage. Oracle just debuted a new developer platform and the likes of Facebook Messenger and Apple’s iMessage have opened up their platforms to host them.  The questions are 1) should you build one and 2) how do you make it work.

The first question has an easy answer – if it adds value, do it! If it expedites consumer interactions, provides easier access to your company, or is even just for pure entertainment then the bot is probably worth the investment.

The second question – how do you make a chatbot successful – is a more complicated. To answer that question, I actually looked at several dozen chatbots and consumer reactions to them by visiting Chatbots.org. The site provides online listings and reviews for chatbots as well as all sorts of useful information. There are many disliked chatbots but just a few respected ones.

The difference between a good chatbot and a bad one, besides the logical question of if they intend to peruse skynet-like sentience, is their humor.  Good bots are unafraid of being less than human. In other words, they don’t try to pretend they are a replacement for human-to-human interaction.

The best bots have an “awe dad” sense of humor about themselves. They will tell you up front what they are about and what they can or cannot do.  One of my favorites, in fact, belongs to an Israeli startup named Imperson.  Imperson creates personality-based chatbots programmed to mimic, but not replace humans.

I also love the chatbots that aren’t chatbots but more like active listeners and information navigators. Take the one created by the device manufacturer Peel, for instance. After you purchase, you can immediately opt-in to receive updates via Facebook Messenger. As someone that was eagerly anticipating my iPhone 7 case and wanted it to arrive at or before the device did, the Facebook-facing interactions were simple and easy to access. It was much easier than going back to their site and it even remembered my order number.

Again though, Peel’s bot didn’t try to be anything it wasn’t. When I asked it a question it didn’t know – it referred me to other, more appropriate channels.

If the prevalence and development of apps were any indication, there is likely to be a rush to create chatbots of all kinds. The question is how many will be used and how many will make you come back for more?

By all indications, it’s the bot developers that think thoughtfully about what they should be vs. what they could be that end up cashing in.

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