By Murray Newlands
With the advancements in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), it seems as though more parts of our lives are being automated, including communication. Welcome to the world of chatbots, where computer-operated machines can assume a variety of roles like customer service reps, personal assistants, social media managers and maybe even fast food workers, according to Forbes.
A TechCrunch article defined chatbots as "programs that respond to natural language text and, optionally, voice inputs in a humanlike manner. They can execute tasks given specific commands." This essentially means that these chatbots can take over many types of time-consuming tasks, enabling human employees to focus on other high-level decisions and interactions. You may not realize it, but you already use a type of chatbot every day if you own an iPhone: Siri has become our dear friend.
Here are five chatbots I am now incorporating in my business, and the benefits they can offer your own:
Facebook Messenger: Facebook now allows you to deliver certain messages through the chatbots that they have integrated into their Messenger feature. This means your business can send automated customer support messaging, as well as content and interactive experiences. In my business, I include links and call-to-action buttons to influence your recipient's behavior. Businesses like 1-800-Flowers let you put in orders by sending your desired recipient's name to their Messenger-bots. Similarly, CNN can send daily stories tailored to your interests straight to your Messenger inbox.
Kik: While it started out as a messenger app for teens, Kik now offers a "Bot Shop" businesses can leverage. Kik has various chatbots that offer valuable information and help you save time. One of my favorites reminds me what's on my calendar. It's like having an assistant follow me around and keep me organized. Its Bot Shop also lets developers make their own bots and include them in the Kik app for easy integration and the potential for wider adaptation.
Line: Slated for launch this summer, Line announced plans to give developers access to its chatbot API and build features to help businesses engage with their customers and prospects. The company will also offer an AI plugin for business accounts to further automate interaction with their users. As a result, users will be able to receive promotions, get answers to customer service issues, receive news stories and more.
Assist: This chatbot aggregates APIs that you can use to interact with all types of businesses, including Uber, Lyft, StubHub, OpenTable, GrubHub and more. All you have to do to use is message Assist on Telegram, Slack, Facebook Messenger or SMS to get a menu of options like "book hotels" or "get a ride." Behind it all, a chatbot is running the show. Whether you're looking to build a partnership for your company's app, or you're a business person who recognizes the time savings of not having to sort through so many apps (or people) to get things done, Assist offers cheap and convenient solutions. With cases of app fatigue, which I've experienced a few times, chatbots seem like a good fix.
SmartReply: This development from Google will eventually respond to your emails for you. Right now, it scans thousands of email conversations across Gmail and crafts three responses from which you can choose. Known as "deep learning," this helps the chatbot learn commands that you can give through your smartphone to improve the responses it provides.
Chatbots are beneficial in that they help me streamline a variety of activities in my business. However, there is more to be done to advance this technology and make it more valuable to businesses. These messages, for instance, need to be fashioned in a way where you can make the message a little more tailored to the recipient. While their ability to write more personalized messages is still to come, I see their potential and appreciate the luxury chatbots give me of doing even more for my customers and clients.
Murray Newlands is an entrepreneur, investor, business adviser and a columnist at Forbes and Entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of payments company Due.