Chatbots are everywhere! Just ask Google and it’ll immediately return 100 plus million results. It's another revolutionary technology that’s going to change the world of IT and business as we know it. It’s the “new black,” a techie’s dream come true, and a new best friend to our customers.

There are so many headlines, but so little substance. Yes, bots will change the world in a way. And no, your company will not begin to crumble if you don’t find a way to use bots for your business. That’s simply another “if this, then that” myth. Depending on your industry or niche, and the competitiveness of your market, making a bot may or may not make sense.

Let’s take a step back for a moment.

Despite the fact that the bot technology is reaching the peak of its hype right now, chatbots are not that new. These conversational interfaces have been around for years. Some of you may remember SmarterChild, the predecessor of modern chatbots. This bot lived on the popular messaging platforms of the early 2000s, such as AOL instant messenger or MSN messenger. Bots that we know today are similarly designed to run on platforms like Facebook Messenger or Slack.

SmartChild had millions of users and it lived to see huge success. But no one remembers many of its cognitively challenged siblings whose existence was too short to matter. For most of the early bots, capabilities were so bare bone that the curious users of yesteryear would abandon them to look for answers in other places.

Today, powered by advanced AI technologies like NLP and NLU, bots are evolving to handle complex tasks and interact with users in more meaningful and contextually relevant ways. They can predict our needs and possible issues (long live predictive analytics!), organize or perform certain tasks for us, and even be ‘trained’ to learn from human behaviors. The latter is made possible by machine learning which refers to algorithms that engineers create to “teach” bots how to respond to human queries.

Back to business, or how brands are using bots.

The rise of bots have inspired many brands, so now you can ask a CNN bot to provide news stories, the Weather Channel bot will give you the weather forecasts, and beauty companies like Sephora share their makeup tips and tutorials.

Startups in the ecosystem are also booming. Digit, for example, allows users to interact with their bank accounts and find ways to save money. The applications are virtually limitless and we’re yet to see how companies will use bots in more imaginative ways.

Just look at this helpful fellow called Sava. He came right out of SpiceFactory kitchen to add some flavor to the bot market by helping conference organizers satisfy their attendees appetite for the event’s schedule, sessions, and speaker info.

On the other side, technology mega vendors are capitalizing on the trend. Microsoft is providing a framework for companies to build “intelligent bots” for services like Skype, Slack, Office 365 mail, and more. IBM is enabling bot developers and businesses to build chatbots with Watson in minutes. Amazon is offering Amazon Lex, a service for building chatbots into voice and text applications. Developers can now use the technologies that power Amazon Alexa to build their bots.

There’s a world of untapped possibilities that companies can exploit to truly delight their customers. However, to take things to the next level we’ll need to build more emotionally intelligent bots. Creating empathy will thus be one of the biggest challenges for bot makers.

To bot or not to bot, that is the question.

We’re all a bit sick of hearing the phrase – “There’s an app for that.” Whether we like them or not, cliches become cliches because there are some universal truths to them.

As consumers, we are painfully addicted to our apps. We use them for simple tasks, such as monitoring our heart rate when we go for a run, but even more so for complex work-related tasks. The reason for this app obsession is simple - they make our lives easier, they help us look better and work smarter. Who wouldn’t want that?

Now, if we had to give credit for one thing only to companies who make successful apps, we’d give it for their ability to consistently deliver value convincing their users to stick around. That’s the most the most difficult part of the success equation for any digital product.

But what if bots could do the same? What if they could be the cure for the app fatigue we’re feeling? It’s safe to say that we’d gladly use them instead for a variety of different actions.

I like how this article on the Economist calls bots “the invisible apps,” such a fitting description! Bots are much more lightweight than apps. As a user, you don’t need to download anything or switch between apps to find the info you need or perform an action. This is available to you within a conversational UI. Bots hold the promise of frictionless, conversational interaction between humans and machines, something that apps didn’t deliver to date.

In months and years to come, instead of developing expensive apps, more and more companies will choose to build bots for the different messaging platforms to match the needs of their customers.

Bot makers, this one’s for you.

Keep your users front-and-center.

User retention is still a huge challenge with bots, and people who build them know this well. If you’re a bot maker, your number one priority is to find a way to deliver value through conversational experiences that you make. Secondly, you need to communicate the value properly in order to retain your users.

The success of a bot, like any digital product, will be measured on its levels of usability, engagement, and the value it provides. If you can make a usable, emotionally intelligent bot that can handle contextual communication to understand users’ requirements and emotions, you’ll make your user relationships stick.

But how can we make our bots so “sensitive” to the user? The AI technology that could enable this, even though still evolving, is there.

There are bots that use advanced tech to analyze our tone of voice to determine our intent. IBM Watson’s Tone Analyzer takes things even further by using linguistic analysis to understand emotions and social tendencies in written text. Bot makers can use these technologies to train bots to show empathy for the user.

Emotional intelligence and a personality will make chatbots less of an annoyance and more a technology that people will actually enjoy using. See more insight from our engineers on how to build bots that people will love.

Where’s the value for businesses?

Companies are not immune to the conversational UIs hype and are trying to figure out whether or not they should build a bot. Like any digital product, a bot needs to be valuable to the users before it can bring any value to a business.

In an essence, if a company can identify a substantial value that a bot could deliver to build relationships and engagement with its users, then they can think about creating one to achieve their specific business goals.

In our next post, we'll look at different ways how bots can bring value for B2B companies.