Chatbots, AI: when conversation becomes a service hub

Chatbots, AI: when conversation becomes a service hub

AI is a hot topic this year, and social media giants are already fighting nails and teeth to transform what could be tomorrow’s main service platform: our everyday conversations on messaging apps (whether it means chatting up your favorite local coffee brand or your best friends’ ‘soccer Sunday’ Whatsapp group). This is an exciting field and a major battleground for GAFA. If Amazon seems to have the lead with Alexa, the vocal assistant’s adoption curve still leaves room for other players and innovations to plug in.

Chatting with brands is old news

Brands have been offering to engage customers on chats for a while now, across a variety of networks and industries. Through Tencent’s WeChat, Chinese folks can purchase a wide array of things, up to complex financial products, with ROPO integration. Retail African startup Jumia has been using Whatsapp has its main channel over all touchpoints of the customer journey, hence answering leapfrog or distribution (storage, delivery) issues and widely disrupting retail over the continent. Closer to us, Agent Provocateur smartly involved the customer’s partner in a group chat to help them pick items that would please both, broadening shopping inspiration.

Chatbots, the new retail sensation

Chatbots have always been fun to play with as they’re the figurehead of AI technological advances. The results have been good enough that companies started implementing them in messaging apps to increase sales. These chatbots will ask you what you’re looking for, offer information and answer questions about any item you like and close the transaction (or redirect you to a nearby store). Although this seems to be a logical next step in terms of customer service, it can be a frustrating experience, especially when brands hide the fact that you’re not talking to a real person. The future will probably see set-ups where humans take over when the bots seem to be failing. That certainly is a key topic for Facebook which is seeing about 11 000 bots developed on Messenger.

AI that ‘enables’ your conversations through service implementation

During the last F8, Mark Zuckerberg displayed his will to turn Messenger into a perennial service platform through Facebook’s “M” robot. Recently deployed in the U.S., M currently analyses conversations and offers content-relevant GIFs and stickers. When the conversation is about a location, M should be able to order a car through your transportation app. If you’re talking about money, it should be able to offer to wire that amount of cash, etc.

Ultimately, M and other messaging-AI are about anticipating the user’s needs by intelligent, real-time analysis of semantic streams. Apple has been working on similar features in its last iOS releases. There is no doubt that these applications can appear invasive and will, at some point, start a public debate. From a marketer’s point of view, this will completely change the horizon of ‘moment marketing’ as well as redefine the concept of real-time.