Chatbots aren’t new. We dove into the history of this ground-breaking technology in a previous article, so we won’t duplicate our efforts today. What we would like to discuss are some of the innovations we saw in this sector throughout the course of 2019. Specifically some revolutionary new uses for the background technology, interesting new integrations with other platforms, and the growing market for enterprise chatbots.
The continuing march of technology had quite an impact on chatbots this past year, with machine learning taking the fore. The ability to deploy a chatbot that can not only answer FAQs and redirect relevant queries to live operators, but that can actually learn new answers to as-yet unasked questions—that’s what we mean by ground-breaking.
Alternative and Unique Uses for Chatbot Technology
A spate of new sites came into their own this year that proved chatbots don’t have to be chatty to be incredibly successful. Using a conversational interface on a database search tool, for example, allows users to enter semantic search phrases, and have the results parsed for relevance before being returned in similarly universal language. These sites and apps prove that the AI-powered software, with a user-friendly interface on the front-end, is a winning combination (we’ll have examples to share below).
Messaging app integration
One of the primary areas we saw flourish in 2019 was in chatbots integrating with existing messaging apps. Facebook Messenger, What’s App, and even Twitter all saw a new wave of chatbots appearing and starting to handle everything from general interest questions and customer service inquiries; to the beginning stages of the recruiting process and handling eCommerce product returns. All this right in the apps customers are already using for their everyday conversations with friends and family. It’s the idea of meeting your customers where they are that shows the power of this technology to improve customer satisfaction across sectors.
Are automated call centers on the horizon?
The powerful combination of machine learning and enterprise integration means that soon, chatbots will be able to field incoming calls, emails, and text messages and return answers pulled from the relevant backend software. That means customers can get answers to their product questions, employees can find out about remaining PTO time, and anyone can find out how to make the best use of your new widget—all without your staff being involved. One aspect of the machine learning that backs modern chatbots is that they learn when to pass a conversation over to one of those human staff members in order to serve the customer best, showing that the technology knows its own limits.
We saw the beginnings of this in 2019 with the introduction of enterprise chatbots that interface with everything from HRIS systems to ERP solutions. These bots are already used within large organizations to put a conversational interface on business processes like HR inquiries, quarterly report preparation, and more.
Enterprise Chatbots Began Making an Impact
As mentioned briefly above, chatbot technology finally became powerful enough to make inroads into the world of enterprise solutions. Customer service is the most obvious area where we saw an impact, with more and more web-based businesses from eCommerce to banking to health care turning to these solutions to handle their tier 1 and 2 communications.
In the internal enterprise realm, HR is the first department to make good use of the powerful database parsing abilities of modern chatbot software. Employees no longer have to send emails to HR with questions about company policies, or to schedule time off. They simply ask the bot, which then uses the employee’s credentials to access the relevant internal database and retrieve the appropriate information, returning it in similarly conversational tones.
The last area we saw great strides made in 2019 is recruitment bots. Many companies are moving toward what’s called recruitment marketing in an effort to cultivate talent pools of potential candidates before they have actual openings on offer.
This method shortens time to hire, simplifies the application process for the candidate, and generally improves everybody’s experience of the hiring process. Where chatbots are coming in is in handling initial screening of candidates and fielding questions from in-process applicants. Thus saving your recruitment team time, energy, and budget to put into using their human strengths like intuition and empathy to work with candidates one-on-one.
Our Top 5 Recent Innovative Chatbots
OK, that covers the innovations from the technology side. Now let’s look at some concrete, real-world examples of this tech in action. There were a lot of great examples for this list, so if you don’t see one you experienced, it’s only because we had to cull the list to get it down to our top 5.
Hipmunk is a site where users can search for deals on all things travel related. From plane tickets, to hotel rooms, to rental cars, and even whole package deals. The bot is location-based, so users are offered deals starting from their current location (based on cell-phone location data or IP address). The true revelation, however, is in the integration of the tool with existing travel sites. Hipmunk itself doesn’t offer tickets, instead, its chatbot takes the information users type into the conversational UI, then goes out and searches for the best deal at that moment on dozens of websites. When the user says they like the deal offered, the chatbot sends them directly to the offering site so they can finish the transaction.
Bank of America
Despite the banking industry’s reputation for being stuck in the past, BofA is forging ahead with one of the best chatbot implementations we’ve seen. Customers can use the bot to request a balance, initiate money transfers, fill out tax forms, and much more. And it can all be done from within the conversational UI of a friendly-faced chatbot named Erica. And with more than 50 million transactions completed to date, Erica is going strong into the new decade.
We mentioned the impact chatbots had on recruiting in 2019, and Talisman is the flagship example. Integrating into LinkedIn Messenger, this chatbot uses NLP (natural language processing) and puts it to use in helping companies find the right people for their openings. Combining a personable interface and the ability to scan LinkedIn profiles for relevant keywords and phrases; Talisman has already mediated business connections for more than 24,000 people.
Another industry that has a reputation for being stuck in the past, the rail world has never been more cutting-edge than now. Julie is the name for the chatbot Amtrak has deployed to field everything from customer service requests to ticket changes. She can pull schedule data, provide route suggestions based on the context of what a user types, and more.
Learning a new language is daunting enough, without the potential for embarrassment many people feel when they try speaking with native speakers as they’re just beginning to learn the basics. In response to user inquiries, language learning site Duolingo developed a chatbot with whom users can converse in their chosen language, free from worry about embarrassing themselves with mispronunciations or incorrect verb usage. This chatbot really impressed us with its ability to switch both language and persona, based on user preference. This truly shows how far the technology has come since the days of scripted responses.