February 01, 2017

The Change Briefing: Battle of the bots series


Pierre Paoli

Pierre Paoli


Bots will power 85% of customer service interactions by 2020.

Part 1: What's all the fuss a-bot?

What’s changed?

At the Las Vegas Consumer Electronic Show this year, it was apparently difficult to find a piece of technology that didn’t have a form of smart communication embedded into it. From close to none a year ago, it is now estimated that more than 100,000 bots are available out there. And the trade press has no shortage of things to say about them. So what is the fuss a-bot?

Whilst some messaging apps have been around for years, the convergence of e-commerce, on-demand consumption, real-time customer relationship, Internet of Things, voice-based interfaces and artificial intelligence are forming the nuts and bolts of marketing robots or “chat bots” as people tend to call them.

Chat bots, simply put, are interactive services providing text or voice interfaces through which consumers can communicate. Most commonly created by 3rd parties (e.g. advertisers) for deployment within messenger platforms, they can also be deployed in websites, apps or any environment in which suitable APIs can be found. With rapid improvements in cognitive computing (read: simple artificial intelligence) systems and NLP (Natural Language Processing), chat bots look set to rapidly evolve from rudimentary to indispensable. It is even being predicated that these bots will power 85% of customer service interactions by 2020.

But these aren’t the only game in town of course. When it comes to AI services on mobile devices, we’ve seen an explosion in “virtual assistants” tightly integrated into the core platforms: Google Assistant for Google’s Nougat OS, Siri for iOS, Alexa for Amazon devices and Cortana for Microsoft devices.

Between these two categories of services, we have all the basic ingredients for a seismic shift in consumer experience and behaviour in the years to come. Predicting that this shift will occur is straightforward – much more difficult is predicting exactly which services we’ll use (i.e. who the winners will be) and how we’ll use them!

What does the change mean?

As brand owners and marketers, how will we engage with these AI service opportunities? Which ones will we need to use? Where do they overlap? It’s difficult to answer most of these questions right now. But these services will offer huge opportunities if thought-through correctly and carefully. To give some food for thought, we can expect AI services to potentially have a huge impact on:

Content & product discovery
Both Chat bots and virtual assistants will offer unparalleled ways for consumers to explore content, information, services and products. Brands will need to find ways to personalise, curate, and inspire us, in order to secure consumers’ loyalty in the long term.

Life management
One of the fundamental purposes, for virtual assistants especially, is to make life and basic tasks as easy and automated as possible: managing all connected devices at home or even remote control our cars… Brands will therefore need to gain much deeper understanding of their customers’ lives (and data) to clearly pinpoint where they actually add value. Check out Operator or Hello Jarvis!

Brands should greatly benefit from the level of convenience driven by chat bots and virtual assistants: repeat or automated purchases, personalised shopping experiences, integrated and secure payments for both on and offline commerce. Amazon in that field is years ahead of anyone else.

Customer relationship management & customer servicing
Brands can start tapping into benefits such as immediate response times, unlimited sales support, richer data and analytics for optimised servicing, cross-function services (a la WeChat), and many unforeseen added value services. KLM bot is still my personal favourite in that space.

What are the implications for advertisers?

As virtual assistants are integrating deeply with operating systems, they can access users’ own data to deliver incredibly tailored results and services: Google Assistant taps into Google search, Maps, Gmail, Chrome, YouTube, Google Play Store to improve results and services. When pre-installed onto new devices, arguably, these services will be best positioned to become most relevant and convenient for consumers. Beyond privacy concerns which is an entire debate of its own, convenience will increase by a few orders of magnitude.

By contrast, 3rd party chat bots will likely be more knowledgeable about particular topics and their own customers. Google Assistant won’t be able to provide advanced search results or booking capabilities to an Uber or KLM user just yet but it is not difficult to imagine in a very near future. That being said, 3rd party chat bots should be much better placed to offer the correct added value services to potential and existing customers. The depth of data, queries and knowledge they can manage should, in theory, remain unmatched by their virtual assistants’ counterparts.

The question then becomes: will Google Assistant become better at configuring this car that I really want or will Ford’s bot do it better adding services all along the way and proving its value to the consumer?

In this series, we will explore in more details implications of bots from a paid, owned and earned media perspective, but at a brand level, the battle of the bots will ultimately be about convenience and speed versus accuracy in order to deliver the best possible consumer experiences.
Search in the past 10 years was largely the gateway to our digital lives, could virtual assistants and bots become the one for the next 10?