The rise of chatbot technologies has not been the stunning success many people anticipated. The technology is now ubiquitous, but chatbots are more famous for their failures than successes. For instance, Microsoft’s Tay faced a wave of media scorn after the internet trained it to become a misogynistic racist in the span of a day.

Less snarky criticisms have been leveled at Google’s Allo. Experts have called the tech giant out for failing to equip Allo with end-to-end encryption, thereby exposing chat conversations to third parties.

Even on the most basic levels, chatbots have found ways to underperform. The Starbucks pumpkin spice latte chatbot was supposed to seamlessly handle basic queries through Facebook Messenger about the coffee chain’s popular drink. Instead, it talked users in circles and failed to answer basic questions about its namesake beverage. Consumers were less than impressed.

Despite some slight missteps, creations such as Siri, Cortana, and Alexa have given us a glimpse of what it’s like to communicate directly with machines. And for the most part, these exchanges have been pretty cool. The chatbot craze is poised to reach new levels — at least once we work out a few bugs.

Benefits of a good chatbot

Quite a few problems stem from companies presenting chatbots as autonomous AI-powered agents. In addition to being largely untrue, many people found this concept somewhat disconcerting. As Starbucks saw with its PSL bot, chatbots fail when they pretend to be smart and then deliver a ho-hum experience.

A recent consumer survey revealed that half of consumers expect businesses to be available 24/7. These same consumers prefer to connect with companies through messaging systems rather than via phone or email. Chatbots are uniquely positioned to provide the sort of anytime, automatic information consumers demand.

Businesses have even more to gain from chatbots. Any service organization would love a chance to improve customer service while lowering costs. Chatbots offer an ideal solution, though they should be used to focus on narrow tasks rather than try to solve every problem at once.

The capabilities of chatbots are directly in line with the needs of consumers and business owners alike. We simply need to get through some growing pains.

Building a better bot

You already know you don’t want to create a bot that’s insecure, ineffective, or racist. So that’s a good start. But you probably still have a lot of questions about how to quickly and effectively integrate chatbots into your current operations. Here are three pointers to help you capitalize on the chatbot craze:

  1. Bring chatbots to the people

    People don’t want to go out of their way to use chatbots; they would rather have the technology integrate seamlessly into the experiences they’re already having. Imagine you’re chatting with a buddy about a movie you’re planning to see together. Your friendly neighborhood chatbot might pop up and ask whether you’d like it to buy some tickets for a showing that evening.

    Pay attention to the channels your customers use, and send your chatbots out to meet them. For example, Taco Bell created a chatbot that allows customers to place orders through the messaging tool Slack. Company officials recognized that quite a few Slack users are young professionals, which closely aligns with the restaurant chain’s target audience.

  2. Give chatbots a brain

    Chatbots have the potential to automate tasks that eat up quite a bit of time, money, and labor. I recently spoke with a lead developer at a major blood bank who told me the company spends $5 to $10 for each donation appointment it schedules. A chatbot could do this same thing — probably a lot more efficiently — for mere pennies.

    Look at your own business and determine tasks you might be able to automate. These duties should be narrow and focused to ensure you don’t overextend your new bots. The employees who have been juggling these tasks will be liberated to tackle more complex duties, though they will occasionally have to step in when bots have issues.

  3. Bid adieu to the app

    Chatbots are able to offer more functionality than apps while allowing companies to avoid a lot of red tape. 

    Rather than attempt to tweak its app during Fashion Week, Tommy Hilfiger built a chatbot to help customers purchase new fashions as soon as models stepped off the runway. An app update would have required developer resources and a lengthy wait through the approval process before users could download the update. The chatbot refresh was instantaneous.

If you haven’t already started to experiment with chatbots, your customers will soon expect you to embrace artificial intelligence. Focus on developing useful chatbots for the platforms your customers frequent, and begin to shift resources from app development to chatbot creation. Above all else, learn from the mistakes of your predecessors to ensure your chatbots accommodate rather than infuriate.