There are 900+ million Messenger users worldwide
There were 11K chatbots using Messenger as of mid May 2016
The lines between human and machine are blurring and the next evolution of the machine is on the horizon - chatbots are computer programs that incorporate advanced artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to mimic a human interaction. You’ve likely already encountered a chatbot perhaps on a recent call or live help, text support session with a company for online customer service, support or assistance. Facebook has integrated chatbot technology into Messenger, and if you’re wondering why it’s been a really big deal and causing ripples worldwide, it’s because it is now in a position start changing the way small and medium business interact with customers.
For a long time, companies shied away from building chatbots because they didn’t have the money or the people to do so, not to mention the technology was still relatively new and in its infancy. With Facebook now having teams of developers coding away day and night on this front the social media giant proposes to make their technology available to all businesses that partner with them. As of mid May 2016, there were a reported 11,000 chatbots in use on Messenger.
Are 800 numbers on the way out?
Stan Chudnovsky, who heads Facebook Messenger, made the chatbot launch announcement back in April of this year at TechCrunch Disrupt NY. The use of Messenger is already on the rise among businesses. In fact, there are now some 5,000 Shopify merchants who message order confirmations and shipping alerts to their customers via Messenger. According to a recent article in DMR by Craig Smith titled, By the Numbers: 25 Amazing Facebook Messenger Stats, 11% of the world’s population use Facebook Messenger with nearly 72% of users being active online purchasers.
Do chatbots work? And if so, how effective are they? One of the earliest type of programmed bot was Eliza, which was developed in the 1960s at MIT. It picked up on keywords and generated standardized responses. Eliza provided a startlingly human-like level of interaction, but this technology was never really put to large-scale business use – until now. In the fifty years that have passed since Eliza, a lot of improvements have been made. For instance, Activision’s Call of Duty chatbot exchanged six million messages with users in the very first week itself.
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For businesses that cannot afford call centres, a chatbot may be the solution. The question is, will this technology be nothing more than a B-grade version of the customer experience provided by a call centre staffed by humans or will it become more than that. Chudnovsky thinks the latter – existing call centres already offer a ‘robotic’ experience, with hold times and touch-tone phone trees. Bots could deliver users the assistance they need - faster.
Facebook is thus thinking big. Messenger bots were traditionally associated with typing text in and getting a response, but Facebook has taken the chatbot to the next level – voice. Facebook is building the next generation of voice recognition capabilities into Messenger. Looking back, Chudnovsky stated that there were 11 million minutes of VoIP audio calling in the first 24 hours of Messenger’s initial launch – and this figure was attained without much if any promotion. With so many people interacting through Messenger, it seems the audience and user base are already primed to use Facebook’s bot technology on a mammoth scale.
Facebook is currently working on providing better analytics that can measure customer experience with its Messenger bots. What are your feelings about chatbots? Please share and start the conversation.
Thinking ahead to 2020, do you think that bots or intelligent assistants will provide a better customer experience with business than chatting with humans? Yes or No
Photo Credit: Sarah Marshall