Since Facebook announced its Messenger Platform in April, bots seem to have been designated the current “it” technology. Far from a fad, bots have been around for years in different forms — and offer tons of potential for brands and businesses to engage with customers in new ways. But bots are not the end-all of digital experiences — and certainly no replacement for apps or the web. Think of a bot as a virtual concierge, a friendly assistant that can answer your questions and help you get to where you want to go based on the experience you’re looking for.
But before we get too deep, let me explain what I mean by a bot.
Defining bots and how they fit into the world
We like Wikipedia’s definition of “chatbot” as a starting point. Wikipedia defines “chatbot” as “a type of conversational agent, a computer program designed to simulate an intelligent conversation with one or more human users via auditory or textual methods.”
Like the web and mobile apps, bots are just another piece of software — comprised of code and logic. What makes them different from other digital mediums is that bots live within other platforms, including messaging services ranging from Facebook Messenger to Slack. There are plenty of other types of bots and conversational interfaces. You’ve got assistants like Siri and Google Now that live on iOS and Android devices at the operating system level. There are hardware solutions like Amazon Echo (aka Alexa), Google Home, and, even Siri on Apple TV. Bots can also live on websites and even within other mobile apps.
But what has our industry abuzz right now is the opportunity presented by Facebook Messenger and other consumer and enterprise messaging platforms. It’s now easier than ever to have a presence where millions of users are already spending time. (Though as we cover in our new ebook, Good Bot, Bad Bot, it’s almost too easy. There’s plenty you should know before you get started on building your own bot). And it’s here where brands and business have the chance to offer a unique kind of experience to customers — with helpful bots that serve as virtual concierges.
Helpful bots at work
Another place a truly helpful bot adds value and creates efficiency is in the workplace. On group messaging platforms like Slack or Hipchat, enterprise bots can easily answer quick questions and send people to the right resource — so employees don’t have to spend time digging or searching for information that could be stored in any number of possible locations. For example:
A sales rep asks the sales bot to provide the company’s latest forecast data, and it returns a link to the report on the company intranet or a business intelligence dashboard.
An office worker books a meeting and conference room by pinging a scheduling bot from within a workgroup team’s messaging chatroom.
A product development team member asks a project bot to give her an update on the status of the latest project ticket.
At ArcTouch, we built a helpful bot for Flowdock, our own group messaging platform, that links to a web app where we track our inventory of mobile devices used for testing. The solution replaced a paper-based system, and now employees can ping the bot to check out and return devices, as well as find out who has what device at any given time.
A helpful bot offers advice
The reason a hotel concierge comes in so handy is she can answer virtually any question about your hotel stay and the local area. You might want a recommendation for French cuisine, and you also want to know the price range, perhaps, or proximity to the hotel or local landmark. Or a French restaurant that has a kids’ menu.
With a few questions, the concierge can offer advice on the perfect restaurant based on the input you provide. But she doesn’t drive you to the restaurant, take your order, cook the meal, or even serve it. A well-designed bot can spend a bit of time in conversation with you to learn exactly what you want or need — then send you off to get it directly from the source.
The beauty of concierges is that they don’t just provide one kind of information so hotel guests can tick off a single experience during their stay. The same can — and should — be true of bots, which should ultimately be a smart, easy, fun way for your audience to connect with your brand in ways you may not even have imagined yet. Most importantly, they are always helpful. Just like a good concierge.