Content was King. But the world is changing fast. Now, as Rax Lakhani at Diffusion phrases it, the C-word has changed. Now, Conversation is King. This week, Booking.c launched their own chatbots, following in the groove carved by other industry giants such as Expedia and the chat concierge services introduced by Starwood among others.
This prompted us to take a moment to reflect on the rise of chat and just how effective it really is.
The root of chatting? Being social, of course
Millennials loved Social. Actually, with the 45-54 age group now almost equally active on major social networks like Facebook, it's come a long way from its early adopter roots. Yet the inklings of a chatty future lurk in the developments taken in Social Media. Take the skyrocketing popularity of instant story-telling from the likes of Snapchat, or in the hotel world, the uptake of 'conventional and more fancy means' of improving a hotel stay. Social media is increasingly not jsut about being outwardly social, but about immediate connection,immediate response, immediate conversation.
What's next? On this (unusual) occasion I ask you to take a hint from our cinema screens, and in particular the famous 'Ex Machina', which explored the potential of a robot so sophisticated, we cannot but believe it human. If possible, such a bot would revolutionise our world, let alone our marketing communications.
So how far have we come?
All over the web virtual assistants are becoming more and more prevalent as a handy admin and customer service tool. They have the potential to take on tedious tasks freeing up human time for new projects. Right now the killer question however is: how artificial are these chatbots? Are there people operating them or are they really electronic? Do they have a positive impact on clients?
An Unexpected Reality
After some serious study, it looks like many of these “artificial” chatbots are in fact not artificial at all - at least not yet anyway. Intended to take on human admin jobs, many chatbots are still in the process of learning and many businesses still have humans behind them that are responding to customers as though they are genuine artificial assistants.
We're particularly interested in the progress made by startup X.ai; it's a learning process, but their chatbots are increasingly, well, human. X.ai is designed to schedule meetings for a given company through artificial intelligence. Although advertised as an artificial personal assistant, X.ai still uses human trainers when in contact with users since the artificial system is not yet advanced enough to go at it alone. This is clearly a good start so as to bring the technology up to scratch, but X.ai must switch to a solely artificial model when this practice is completed if it wants to maintain brand authenticity.
Certain companies out there however are simply just using humans as chatbots. Everything from social media sites and email schedulers to online retail assistants and concierge services are employing human-assisted artificial intelligence. This ensures that the “artificial” communication comes across human-like and therefore provides a more reliable customer satisfaction. Taking this into account, there is still confusion around chatbots - are they real robots or are they controlled by humans?
The Obstacles for Human Bots
As well as encountering antisocial behaviour at times, the key problem for human bots is the fact that chatbots are operational 24/7 and some individuals at these companies have experienced very long and difficult working hours as a result of this. Desk-bound lunches and attending work dos by alternating shifts is expected to safeguard the chatbot from ever looking inactive, but this commitment can cause exhaustion and low staff morale amongst other issues.
In this way, working on a never-ending cycle, chatbots aim to guarantee great customer service around the clock, but this is precisely why they are robots and not humans. In the name of fair labour, it is important for companies to use chatbots responsibly as artificial assistants and not exploit human workers for the sake of customer experience.
Do I pass the Turing test?
Will the artificial chatbot will ever be proficient enough to emulate a human - or at least able to answer a multitude of questions coherently? Right now chatbots might be too young to cope with frustrated customers looking for a concrete answer, but keep your eyes peeled for the glimmering future of true 24/7 service.
Is now the moment I reveal my true bot nature? I'll leave you to guess...