What We Learned From Chatbots in 2018

Chatbots continue to march into the public and consumer consciousness as they wedge themselves firmly into apps, websites, and social media as contact points. But what can companies thinking about their first bot learn from an exciting 2018 in chatbot evolution?

Chatbots are launching fast

The first lesson for anyone considering a bot is that they aren’t new or scary territory. In the last few hours alone, Citizen AI in New Zealand launched RentBot to help those struggling to find a rental property. Rentbot helps solve a common problem around the world, using natural language processing to create a tool for the growing rental market.

In Vietnam, Da Nang city has launched an AI public service chatbot to promote easy access to administrative tasks including, traffic, health care, food safety, tourism and business registration. And it’s not even lunchtime, many more chatbots will roll out around the world today, this week next week and the pace will only pick up in 2019.

They increasingly perform helpful tasks for citizens, customers and business users, while lowering the stress on the agency or company that operates them and saving on costs. And, while many previous bots were pilots or tests, businesses large and small are rolling out full production bots with confidence.

Chatbots make a difference

Chatbots started life as an economic or efficiency tool, but have rapidly moved on to become helpful in all kinds of ways. With virtual assistants and other AI tools, bots are becoming part of the fabric of digital life. From charities to medical and wellbeing bots, already a groundswell of good-news bot stories indicate their value.

While bot advocates and futurists know this all too well, a rise in positive stories will help boost the wider understanding of them. From helping poorer students help get into college to providing health advice and support to women across Pakistan. The more bots help out in the world, the higher their profile will become.

Chatbots don’t need 5G or other fancy tech

There’s already a rush among tech vendors to sell next-gen technology that doesn’t exist in any semblance of reality yet. 5G is a great example, it will shape the future, but bots don’t need it. They are about the lowest demanding technology product on the market with some light cloud access about the only requirement, with an AI back-end if required.

Any company from a two-person startup to a monolithic enterprise can launch a bot today, and beyond cloud and WiFI or mobile connectivity to the cloud, there’s no need for costly hardware,

Chatbots still need proper testing and clarity of purpose

Almost every month, a bot launches with impressive-sounding claims made by the creator, and within minutes it is torn down by professionals in the field for some obvious flaw or ignore a basic or serious issue. Often in the health field, the more serious the nature of the bot, the more testing and peer approval is required, nothing new in the medical world, but startups seem to want to ignore this requirement.

A recent Twitter feed shows inappropriate reactions, missed diagnosis opportunities and much more due to the simplicity of the Hugging Face bot and a lack of proper testing or an authoritative overview. Whatever the bot, these requirements should never be overlooked in the race to get to market, or to make a big splash with outlandish PR promises.

Chatbots are jargon-free at both ends

Since any department or team in a company can build, launch and operate a bot, there’s minimal jargon in this part of the tech industry. Bots themselves need to speak plain English (or any other language) to users, and bot vendors need to talk simply to the businesses that will deploy the next million or billion bots.

Plain speaking is part of the language of bots and this gives all parties the chance to avoid jargon, double-speak and other problems that have blighted the tech sphere. If PR and marketing also take part in this spirit of plain-speaking (see Clarity of Purpose), then bots and their creators will avoid many of the pitfalls of previous over-promised, under-delivered, technology.

Business and customer needs are key

Buoyed by this information, lots more companies are planning bots in 2019, and everyone else will follow into the next decade. Chatbots and virtual assistants will merge into complementary services offering the best of both worlds.

The businesses, across travel, healthcare, financial services and in retail need to look at their processes and establish where the chatbots can be best used, from engagement, customer satisfaction, making better use of its resources that are freed up from the use of bots.

All the while, a focus on how to best address the customers’ needs will see bots impress users, from answering the right questions, saving on calls, with seamless handoffs to agents when needed. Doing bots right is easier with the hindsight of 2018’s successes and failures.