What Can You Expect From Chatbots In 2018?

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A box pops up in the bottom-right corner of your screen. Text appears. “Hello. How can I help you today?” Is it a person or a machine? It’s becoming harder to tell.

Welcome to the world of chatbots.

Chatbots: Big Nuisance Or The Next Big Thing?

Sometimes seen as a nuisance, it’s easy to dismiss this ubiquitous technology as a functionless frivolity.

That, however, would be a mistake.

While previous iterations of chatbot technology may have felt a little like conversing with a lifeless automaton or browsing a fancy FAQs, modern incarnations are anything but.

Today’s chatbots utilize advances in natural language processing (NLP)—the ability to interpret the nuances of everyday language, and give a relevant response—to have smart, helpful and personalized conversations with customers. They can provide service around the clock, have huge catalogues of knowledge and never get tired. That’s why 80 percent of businesses want to use chatbots by 2020. And it’s why 44 percent of US consumers already want to deal with chatbots rather than humans when it comes to customer relations. 

It’s clear that chatbots are a technology worth investigating, if not investing in, for any business. But what about the future? What will 2018 bring for the technology? Let’s take a look at the trends you need to know about.

Voice Speaks Volumes  

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ll have heard of the Amazon Echo and Google Home. These voice-based devices (using the developments in NLP mentioned earlier) have transformed how people interact with the technology around them.

Watch out for companies like Storyline and PullString to have an impact in this arena.  

AI Makes Chatbots Smart(er)  

Linked to the rise of voice-based chatbots will be the further development of artificial intelligence (AI).  

AI has experienced a quantum-leap forward over the past few years (in fact, it’s moving faster than anyone expected — but business owners still struggle to gauge its full impact).  

In 2016, Google’s AI, AlphaGo, shocked the world by beating 17-time world Go champion Lee Sedol. Go—a game of perfect information (no luck-based elements)—was a tough nut to crack for AI. To win requires what many describe as ‘intuition’, so for AlphaGo to beat the world champion was a big deal.  

 How did it achieve this feat? It taught itself. It played multiple-lifetimes’ worth of games in just a few months, effectively training itself to be the best in the world.  

How does this relate to chatbots? Well, now that this technology exists, it’s just a case of extrapolating its potential uses. Picture an AI like AlphaGo as a chatbot, tasked with customer service. It could feasibly teach itself every and any issue that a customer might come up with, as well as the best possible solution. This could mean instant answers to any question. No matter how complex your query, a future AI chatbot wouldn’t miss a beat.  

Sounds good, right? (That is, forgetting the potential Terminator scenario.)  

Omnichannel Chat And The IoT  

2018 represents a real opportunity for chatbots to go omnichannel and embrace the Internet of Things (IoT).  

 Currently, you might interface with a chatbot on a single platform—a website or an app, for example. But what happens when the conversation you’re having needs to take you onto another platform, or even another device? That’s where chatbots could be heading in 2018.  

There are already fantastic examples of chatbots taking an omnichannel approach. KLM, for example, created a chatbot for use in Facebook Messenger. With it, KLM travellers can ask questions about flights, access their boarding passes and be put through to a human representative, if necessary. Their whole journey, so to speak, is catered for by the chatbot. This is the kind of experience that’s set to become the norm this year.  

The next stage, however, is even more exciting. It’s where we begin to see chatbots using the IoT to interact with other devices. Let’s say, for example, that your new smart TV stops working. You get on your phone and start talking with a chatbot for help. Thanks to the connectivity offered by the IoT, not only is that chatbot able to identify your issue, it can also connect with your TV and solve the problem there and then. Job done.  

Blockchain Brings Security To Conversations 

Blockchain is a term you’re probably familiar with thanks to its reputation for securing Bitcoin. But blockchain encryption will, in 2018, have an impact on chatbots, too. 

In a nutshell, blockchain encryption is one of the strongest ways of stopping your information getting into the wrong hands (check out TechRepublic’s video for an in-depth explanation of how it works). And it will soon solve one of the major obstacles currently holding chatbots back from reaching their full potential.   

That obstacle is people’s willingness (or, rather, lack thereof) to divulge sensitive information.   

Though a multitude of ecommerce sites already offer free chatbots, they tend to be focused on small-scale customer service, marketing, or content engagement activities. 

If you were on your bank’s website and a chatbot asked you for your security details, would you hand them over? Or what if you were on a dating website and a chatbot asked you for personal information, would you tell it? The answer to both is probably no, and you’d be right to think that way.  

But what if you knew that any information you divulged was completely confidential and secured by the most thorough encryption known to man?   

Again, you might hesitate. But with time, and once you see the benefit it offers, it’s likely that you, and others, will start to feel more comfortable offering up private information to chatbots. That’s what blockchain brings, and that’s what we’re likely to see more of this year.

Wide-Scale Adoption, Even By Smaller Brands  

As chatbot technology becomes more widely available, more and more entrepreneurs and SMEs are going to be able to integrate them into their marketing and customer service strategies.   

In today’s hyper competitive ecommerce market, any new ecommerce investor would do well to go hard with chatbots and Messenger marketing in order to solidify their brand’s position as a market leader. It’s a surefire way to be competitive and drive sales and customer engagements. 

The technology is easy to implement and takes seconds to deploy — there is nothing to lose. 

What Next?  

This has really just been a taste of what new developments we’ll see for chatbots during 2018. Hopefully, it’s given you an idea of the massive potential this technology has for customer service now—and the even bigger potential we’ve yet to see.  

At the beginning of this article, we touched on the concept that it can be hard to tell if you’re talking to a chatbot or a person. You might think that it’s easy, and there’s no way a machine could fool you. At this moment in time, you might be right. But check again at the end of 2018, and let us know what you find. We expect you’re in for a surprise. 

  • By Victoria Greene, a branding consultant and freelance writer. See her blog at  VictoriaEcommerce.