One of the more fun assertions you hear tossed around nowadays is “Chatbots will kill apps, websites, and basically everything else, too” — except, it seems, email. Having been in the marketing business for a couple of decades now, I read and listen to these convictions with a compassionate smile.
As an example of why I’m a little more skeptical, people have been preaching the end of TV for as long as I’ve been in business. And while traditional, programmed, fixed timeslot TV viewing has indeed decreased, the volume of TV and video content has only increased, and viewing across connected devices keeps increasing with age, also for millennials. If you look at the quality and selection of TV content available, I’d almost say TV has never done better.
My prediction is that for the time being, TV and video will still reign in passive entertainment, while gaming consoles and apps will continue to charm active players. Magazines and blogs won’t lose to bots anytime soon when it comes to lifestyle and status categories, and newspapers will still be a valuable and frequently used source of news. Email will still be used (too much) to convey formal pieces of information and communication.
I do believe, though, that bots will rise quickly to complement the media and service landscape across all these categories by creating new media opportunities, occasions, and forms of consumption and interaction. Thanks to their immediate, personal, and intimate nature, they’ll serve the sporadic but proliferating, intent-driven micro-moments very well.
Google divides micro-moments up to I-want-to-know, I-want-to-go, I-want-to-do, and I-want-to-buy moments. These make sense for Google, which is organized strongly around knowledge and products. But looking at Facebook’s growing appetite and increasing capability to grasp an ever-bigger slice of people’s micro-moments with Messenger 2.0, we need to add a few more. I call these I-want-to-connect, I-want-to-play, and I-want-to-grow moments. Let’s look at how chatbots can and will fill each of the above roles.
This is one of the most obvious use cases for a bot: asking for information. You might not fire up a company’s website or app on a bus stop just as the bus is arriving, but you can always shoot a question to their chatbot. And with services like Poncho for weather, you get your questions delightfully answered.
If you’re chatting with your friends about a ski trip, you might suddenly want to know if your insurance covers it. Your insurer’s bot might offer that info without you even leaving the chat. Lemonade is an example of an insurance company built on speed and chatbots. They promise to insure you in 90 seconds, and pay a justified claim in 3 minutes.
Everyday commuting is already a quite common chatbot use case. As I’m chatting to my friends about getting somewhere, I often get a recommendation to grab an Uber, right there in my private chat. Despite the intrusive nature, I sometimes take up the offer.
But oftentimes I opt for the subway. And while there is an Alexa skill for NYC subways, I would certainly need this on Messenger. So MTA, if you’re not on it already, let me know if I can help. And people go on longer trips too. While comparing flights, accommodation, and itineraries for leisure is still more convenient on apps and sites, Concur is piloting a business travel Slackbot that could greatly speed up booking.
Chatbots can help complete tasks and get things done, and get them done faster than with other channels. Bots helping individuals, like Visabot for immigrants, are already in the market. But bots on business platforms like Slack naturally hold even more potential to bring cost and speed benefits.
Slackbots like Standuply, Fireflies, and Jell make work more efficient by automating project management, daily standups, progress monitoring, and even task division. They can also connect to other relevant other tools like Trello, MongoDB, SalesForce, or Google Analytics for added functionality.
Alexa is naturally connected to Amazon’s eCommerce platform, but Facebook is also after transactions. The social network company has said it won’t take a cut from Facebook Payments usage; it offers the tools for free to encourage spending on advertising instead. I recently shopped with Burberry’s bot, but leaving aside its chattiness, it still requires better commerce integration.
Other types of transactions, like money transfers to accounts or people, are naturally also a part of the financial landscape. Because I need to regularly send funds to my Finnish account for a mortgage payment, Transferwise is already one of my favorite bots.
I’d say the thing chatbots are closest to completely replacing is phone calls to customer service. Indeed, we already navigate through mazes of menus or speak our answers to robots when calling our favorite teleoperator or utility. A chatbot offers the benefit of starting, dropping, and resuming a conversation at your convenience.
But bots can also connect you to people via relatable experiences, like Yeshi does. It literally walks you through the 2.5 hour daily trip of an Ethiopian girl getting water for her family, and also offers a way to donate money right in the app.
Amazon has shown that games can be an attractive use case even for homebody voice interfaces. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time playing the Wayne Investigation on Alexa in the mornings — something I have to admit I would never have thought about doing a year ago.
On mobile, Facebook has shifted its Messenger strategy strongly towards gaming. On Messenger 2.0, casual games like Arkanoid seem to already be working great. With the added benefit of Facebook’s friend network, as well as bots to play with and against, expect action in the social gaming space too.
Personal transformation and growth is one of the most interesting use cases in my point of view, as it addresses the highest step in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Thanks to personal proximity and frequency of use, a chatbot can stick with you, help replace bad habits, nudge you towards beneficial behaviors, and challenge you to learn every day.
French entrepreneur Loic Le Meur recently said he regretted not investing in Calm, since HeadSpace was already big. Calm has since been racking up app users, and it has recently expanded to the bots space via MeditateBot. I have yet to succeed in activating Duolingo on Messenger, but after Macron’s election win and France’s rising potential within the EU and the world, I’m aiming to start conversing with French bots to sharpen my grammar and discussion skills.
Sami Viitamaki is the executive director for digital at Havas, an advertising firm.
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