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Four executives from different corners of commerce sat down together with VentureBeat editor in chief Blaise Zerega at the MobileBeat2016 conference on July 13 during a panel. The goal? To discuss the future of conversational commerce, with a focus on the new genre of chatbot technologies. That was a major theme at the event, and the panel served as a good digest of what is happening with chatbots in general. Here are the big takeaways.
1. Conversational commerce has arrived
Uber’s Chris Messina coined the term “conversational commerce,” and it’s an apt way to describe the increasing interactions between consumers and business-driven chatbots or chat apps. In April of this year, Facebook Messenger chatbots numbered 11,000, and 23,000 people have created an account for the Wit.ai tool. Just to name a few in the commerce space, bots include those from CNN, 1-800-Flowers, Bank of America, and Expedia. Users for messaging apps have surpassed social networks, and the trend doesn’t look to be slowing anytime in the near future.
2. Customer service bots rule
Robert Stephens, the cofounder of Assi.st, argued that customer service is a good match for bots, which also use a structured and scripted approach. Stephens predicts that customer service will continue to scale and become more automated. Many execs in our A.I. expert consensus share his enthusiasm about chatbots in a customer service environment.
3. Integration with customer history is important
Bots must adjust quickly. Nichele Lindstrom, the director of digital marketing at Whole Foods Market, said the goal for a chatbot is to integrate seamlessly into a CRM, call center log, and customer history. Lindstrom cited an example of a customer who calls in asking about a late delivery of groceries from Whole Foods — when this same customer submits the question via chat, the system should track that and update the log. It’s what will make chat more powerful.
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4. We’re still in the training phase
Humans are feeding information to the algorithms behind the bots today. Facebook product manager Seth Rosenberg noted that in order for the chatbot trend to really fly, consumers need “delightful experiences,” even if a human is behind the chat initially. Human assistants help people grow accustomed to talking with bots and train the bots at the same time.
5. Measuring bot success is a new priority
The data is critical. Companies will need to track the number of sales made through chat and the number of chats where a sale is lost. Stephens suggested that finding ways to measure friction (he defines friction as effort — that is, the number of steps needed + time + price) is step one in a smooth integration.
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