AI isn’t just for Fortune 500 companies anymore. As a matter of fact, thanks to a number of innovations in the last few years, small businesses now can leverage AI technology to improve their operations, connect with their customers on a deeper level and ultimately, boost their sales.
What is a Chatbot Exactly?
There’s no need for overly-complicated phrases or ten-dollar words to explain this: A Chatbot is simply a program that automates certain tasks by chatting with a user through chatting interface.
Simple as that.
Today, some of the more advanced Chatbots are powered by AI, which helps them solve problems, personalize messages and improve interaction over time. The technology might still be in its infancy, but more than a few people use Chatbots on a daily basis without even realizing it.
According to eMarketer research, more than 35 million American use voice-activated, personal assistants at least once a month.
While some people initially thought Chatbots were just a novelty, they’ve officially passed the stage of hype and started to mature. But the matter of the fact is – possibilities of Chatbots are just beginning to be mined and space still has room for growth.
Although they are not going to replace human or apps anytime soon, a number of companies are experimenting with different approaches to take Chatbots to the mainstream.
The Current State of the Chatbot Market
And just how close are Chatbots to hitting the mainstream? We can take a look at some market numbers and see. According to a recent Grand View Research report, the Chatbot market is expected to reach roughly $1.2 billion on a global scale, in less than ten years. What’s more, experts are predicting that the market will grow at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 24%.
Chatbots are capable of working in areas such as processing, payments, and marketing. However, if we are looking at revenue, Chatbot services have the majority of the market share. As Grand View research shows, around 45% of end users prefer them as the primary mode of communication for questions regarding customer service.
In just a few years, more and more companies are going to adopt the technology. If so many organizations are already aware of the use of Chatbots, they’re now starting to feel the pressure to integrate the latest technology in order to improve their business operations. But what about the little guys? Are small companies ready to adopt and invest in this new technology?
Five Chatbot Trends for 2018
When we’re talking about tech adaptation in the SMB sector, things take time to get going, especially when it comes to something as new as Chatbots.
Some people think that in 2018 small businesses across the globe will start using Chatbots, but the process will probably be more gradual.
Some larger companies are actively using the technology, and let’s look at some of the current Chatbot trends and see how long will it take for them to trickle down to small and mid-size businesses.
1. Steady Adaptation of Chatbots
We, as humans, are always looking for the next big thing. After all, this is how we managed to prosper as long as a species. And from the looks of things, Chatbots are poised to be the next big platform, which connects customers to businesses.
A few months ago, Oracle surveyed more than 800 marketing professionals on the adaptation of Chatbots. According to results of the survey, 80% of brands plan on using Chatbots for their customer service efforts in the next 36 months.
At the moment, more than a third of the surveyed marketers – 36% to be exact – said that they are using Chatbots to provide customer service. Since the big dogs are already adopting the technology, it’s just a matter of time before it spreads through the SMB sector.
2. Chatbots Becoming More Human-like
As we’ve established, Chatbots are starting to invade numerous business sectors. In addition to native bots – think Apple’s Siri – 3rd-party companies are now helping companies interact with their customers. For instance, you can now order an Uber ride through your Facebook Messenger app.
The main problem with Chatbots is that you feel too “unnatural” to some consumers. The data on the matter suggests that a vast majority of people would still rather talk to a real-life sales rep than talk to a machine because they feel it will be unable to answer their questions properly.
But while older consumers still have trouble identifying the true value of Chatbots, millennials have fewer concerns about the technology. According to Mobile Marketer research, around 40% of millennials say they chat with Chatbots on a daily basis.
3. Voice Experiences Becoming Mainstream
This year, we saw industry giants like Google and Amazon pushing the “smart speakers” market. For instance, as Geek Wire reports, Amazon has already sold more than 20 million Echo devices. Furthermore, there are over 20 thousand skills on the Alexa Store at the moment.
On the other hand, Google is trying to make voice-activated assistants available on all Android-powered devices, including smartphones, wearables, and even smart TVs. And from what it seems, this trend will probably continue in 2018.
Plus, a number of voice-powered but builders, such as PullString have emerged in recent years. These companies are trying to help smaller organizations build their own voice-based Chatbots. There are still challenges, developers are working hard on bringing Voice UI to the mainstream. With might even success from a few new voice bots in the next 12 months.
4. The Rise of Conversational Bots
While this may sound harsh to some people – we need to start learning how to communicate more effectively, especially with our customers. At times, it feels like people aren’t really listening when customers are trying to tell them something really important.
So the area some of us are most excited about is conversational interfaces. Since Natural Language Processing is still not where it needs to be – more on the state of NLP later – companies have started experiment with interface-based Chatbots. This year, we saw a ton of new use-cases for CI.
Companies such as Drift have started to work on “conversational marketing” in order to help small businesses get rid of frustrating forms with conversations. What’s more, companies have started working on personalized user-experience by leveraging so-called conversational websites.
5. Natural Language Understanding
One of the main selling points Facebook used to promote their own Chatbot is that it uses Natural Language Processing technology, which helps it to better understand users’ inquiries. But if you’re one of the people who’ve actually tried interacting with their Chatbot, you know that this is far from reality.
In an effort to get one step, some companies have started working on Natural Language Understanding. Unlike NLO, NLP refers to a number of systems, which work together to handle end-to-end interactions between humans and machines.
Simply put, this technology will allow users and machines interact more naturally. Therefore, companies are pouring money into the development of technologies like AI negotiation capabilities and reinforced learning to help machines get a better understanding of the human language and user requests.
The Future of Chatbots
In 2017, a ton of major companies – including Starbucks, LinkedIn, and British Airways – have announced their support for the development of Chatbots and expressed an interest in implementing them into their operations.
The key players we mentioned before, like Microsoft and Apple have been investing in this technology for years at this point, so we can naturally assume that they will continue to spend more money on development of Chatbots.
Chatbots for business will definitely evolve in the following years – the design and architecture can possibly improve to a point where interactive bots become the standard for customer service. Still, there are different apps for Chatbots across a variety of sectors.
If you want to stay in touch with the recent developments, you have to follow the industry closely. And what’s the final verdict on small businesses? Will they be able to adopt Chatbots anytime soon?
In the end, the adaptation of a new technology largely depends on these factors:
- Lower costs
- Growing demand
- Improved technology
Just think about this: a decade or so ago, it was almost unimaginable for a small business to have its own custom application. However, as large enterprises started pushing out their apps, low-cost app creation services started popping up.
These days, your average customer expects to have an app as a part of the customer service process.
Therefore, you should keep a close eye on Chatbots in 2018 if you want to get your hands on your own bot in the next couple of years. But be careful – you shouldn’t jump in before the big corporations have it all figured out…
By Tagove :