The notion of a chatbot isn’t exactly new. People have been writing these pieces of software to simulate a conversation using natural language for years with varying levels of success. It’s even possible that you may have received a telemarketing call at some point where you weren’t talking to a real person at all.
We’ve been seeing the increasing rise of automation as far back as the industrial revolution. These days, there are fast food restaurants with touchscreen kiosks for ordering your extra value meals if you don’t want to talk to an actual cashier. And now chatbots have risen to prominence, largely because of the recent push by Facebook to allow brands to use chatbots through Facebook Messenger.
The Voice Inside the Machine
In effect, Facebook users can initiate a “conversation” with one of these chatbots the same way they would start a conversation with other Facebook users. The difference is that the “person” on the other end isn’t a person at all. It’s a piece of code. In these early stages, apparently these chatbots are terrible at what they’re supposed to do, but the assumption is that they will improve over time.
Facebook isn’t the only one pushing the chatbot experience through its messaging service. There’s already a chatbot store in Kik where you can “talk” to different brands that have set up these virtual personalities.
A big part of the reason why Kik and Facebook are experimenting with branded chatbots is that they’re trying to reach the millennial generation. These are young people who didn’t even grow up in an online-first mentality as much as they grew up with a mobile-first mentality. And mobile messaging apps, like Snapchat and WhatsApp, are huge among this demographic.
Talking for Fun and Profit
Facebook has already put together a guide for how to build bots for Messenger. Unless you’re already a developer yourself, this can probably prove to be quite a daunting task, but know that the possibility is most certainly there and it’s something you might want to explore if you have a business that can benefit from it.
But what kind of business is that, exactly?
For the time being, Facebook Messenger chatbots are taking on one of two different forms. Some of them are information-based. They’re meant to be digital assistants for queries, not unlike what you might be using Siri for right now. What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow? Will I need an umbrella? Is it cold enough that I should wear a jacket?
There may be some potential there for branded or sponsored content, but it’s probably not going to be a big revenue source on its own.
The other type of Facebook chatbot is based in e-commerce. Rather than getting a user to go to your website (even if it’s mobile optimized) to place an order or to book a service, the user can do that by “talking” with your Facebook chatbot. The point is the minimize the potential friction points for such a transaction. You want to make it as easy as possible for someone to give you money.
The Path of Least Resistance
As you can imagine, the revenue potential with the latter is much higher. If you have a chatbot that is set up to take orders from customers, and your immediate competition does not, all else equal you have the advantage. At least among “millennial” users who may be more inclined to converse with a chatbot than to boot up a mobile browser, type in an address, search for an item, add it to a shopping cart and proceed through the checkout process.
Buying through a chatbot, in theory, is way easier. This assumes that the person’s e-commerce account is already connected with his or her Facebook account. No need to re-enter a shipping address or payment information, because that’s all saved and stored already.
For the time being, chatbots through Kik and Facebook Messenger are purely experimental and it’s far too early to tell if they are viable channels through which you can grow your online business. If you’re brave enough to try these uncharted waters as an early adopter, you could catch a big wave of cash before your competitors launch chatbots of their own.