One Year Of Chatbots: What We Learned And What's Next

Interest in chatbots has skyrocketed since Facebook announced it would support bots on Messenger at F8 in 2016. In the 12 months since then, chatbots have certainly dealt with some growing pains, but they’ve also given us a glimpse into a future where automation and artificial intelligence streamline the customer experience.

At this year’s F8, Facebook made it clear it is doubling down on chatbots with a series of announcements. While there is still plenty of skepticism out there about chatbots, I’m still bullish on them, especially with one of the world’s largest companies throwing their weight behind them. 

In fact, I believe chatbots will be pervasive for brands in three years. Here’s why:

The vast majority of brands haven’t deployed chatbots, despite strong consumer receptiveness to them. While some have been quick to experiment with chatbots, larger companies are being more cautious. Just 9% of Fortune 500 companies currently work with bots, according to Forrester. This in part explains why just 22% of consumers have interacted with a chatbot, according to our 2017 Mobile Consumer Report.



While assembling our report, we also found that 65% of consumers would be comfortable engaging with a company via chatbot, indicating a real opportunity for brands. At F8, Facebook announced it will bring chatbots into group chats, so you can build a Spotify playlist together, for instance. This will greatly help with chatbot exposure and likely convince more companies to take the plunge.

Expertly executed, narrowly focused use cases will pave the way to more robust offerings. One of the chief complaints about chatbots has been their unresponsiveness. What’s the advantage of chatting with a robot if it can’t process anything? If the industry is guilty of anything in the past 12 months, it’s hyping chatbots up too much. It’s now crystallized that a good chatbot in 2017 is one that doesn’t do too much.

That may sound like a bad thing, but it’s not. In a webinar I recently did with Forrester analyst Michael Facemire, he discussed how chatbots are currently suited for in-and-out tasks, such as inventory search or information collection via forms. Eventually, complex tasks like consultative purchases and product research will be possible with a bot, but until then it’s best to keep expectations in check by starting small and adding functionality as you go.

The chatbot industry is maturing rapidly. One of the biggest barriers to chatbot adoption was the absence of a “Bot Store” — the equivalent of the App Store that allowed apps to flourish. At F8, Facebook took a big step in solving this issue by introducing a discover tab to allow you to search for chatbots in Messenger.

Beyond Messenger, however, there is an entire ecosystem taking shape. Investments in the chatbot industry grew 229% between 2015 and 2016; by comparison, the app industry grew 66% in the same timeframe. With more infrastructure in place, marketers will be able to turn chatbots into a significant revenue-driving channel. By 2019, I believe conversational commerce (i.e., using messaging to market and sell) will begin to significantly displace app-based commerce.

While overcoming these obstacles is important to the mass adoption of chatbots, arguably the most critical component is advancements in artificial intelligence. Once bots can understand intent (e.g., is this query about shopping, location, customer service, etc.), their true potential can be realized.

In the year or so since chatbots burst onto the scene, it’s been a thrilling but bumpy ride. When we check in again 12 months from now, I expect we’ll be impressed by the strides made by this industry.

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