The rise of chatbots in design: Talk to the T.Rex by +rehabstudio
Chatbots have actually been around for more than 50 years. In 1950 Alan Turing theorised that a truly intelligent machine would be indistinguishable from a human being during a text-only conversation. Over the last 50 years we’ve had many forms of “chatbots”, from Eliza in 1966 (the world’s first chatbot mimicking responses of a psychotherapist) to Alice in 1995 (a chatbot which served as the inspiration for the 2013 film Her).
Over the past couple of years chatbots have been rising in popularity, particularly within the design world. Now they are even more accessible to brands, especially after the release of Messenger Platform, Facebook’s platform to build your own bot, which at the beginning of July 2016 already had more than 11,000 chatbots available.
The opportunity for brands is massive with companies like Uber and CNN already taking advantage of the fact that chatbots can do more than just chat – they can send videos, audio clips, GIFS, and other files, meaning the opportunity to engage, centralise and simplify the user journey and nudge consumers along the purchasing process to the right product is huge. According to Peter Gasston, Creative Technologist at +rehabstudio, “ The messaging space is an exciting place to be in at the moment. There is a huge opportunity for brands as they can be getting closer to consumers through messaging, which is a hugely familiar channel for them. It’s also a big opportunity for brands to listen and learn from their customers – not just broadcasting to them: every interaction is a survey.”
Instant messaging apps are on the rise, while app downloads are on the decline. Experts call this the era of conversational commerce.
Fancy talking to a dinosaur?
An amazing example of the potential of chatbots was recently developed for National Geographic by +rehabstudio.
Noticing a big trend around ‘app fatigue’ and the fact that on average, users download zero new apps per month, they took advantage of this shift from apps to messaging platforms to create their own bot . Add to this that the average UK child is more likely to be able to confidently use a mobile phone before being able to ride a bike and that over 70% of children have access to a touch-screen device at home, they saw the potential to hack learning and help National Geographic Kids engage children in a very different way.
+rehabstudio decided to change the way content was consumed by creating an interactive and engaging experience that allowed children to learn whilst having fun using an interface that is both natural and familiar – chat.
Their chatbot allowed you to have a conversation with a T.rex called Tina and used questions from school children to train the smart chatbot to answer the most common queries plus added in some personality from some more left field questions. The result speaks for itself – in 2 weeks actions on the National Geographic Kids Facebook page doubled, with a 59% increase in likes, and a 2000% rise in visits.
What can brands take away from this
Chatbots have the power to revolutise the way we shop and the way we learn. Done right and chatbots can immediately impact a brands bottom line, done wrong however, and it can have a negative impact on a customers perception.
Working with the right partners, investing properly, and experimenting is the key to this. Also, building trust with consumers – without that chatbots fail. According to Peter, “Brands need to ask themselves: ‘does this make our consumers life more convenient?’ If yes, do it. If not, then it’s not helpful. Brands shouldn’t just duplicate apps, if the service works better as an app, we shouldn’t be creating messaging bots for the sake of it.”.
Rob Bennett, Managing Director at +rehabstudio, comments that “the best chatbots are long term relationships, not one night stands.” In the case of chatbots “not only do they relieve us from the administrative drudgery of researching and purchasing, but they can remember our preferences, our proclivities and the things we like. By establishing trust and delivering value, they help us along a journey”.
Peter adds that “businesses need to clearly set the user’s expectations very early on by establishing a very clear and narrow domain for their bot; – ie, what the bot is there to do – and then test it, test it, and test it again. Bots should do exactly what they say on the tin – and do it seamlessly to ensure there is no tension or friction for the user”.
Be wary of going head first into AI
AI is complicated and often not worth the effort. Brands don’t necessarily need to see chatbots as an unknown journey into the AI space. According to Peter “lots of businesses are trying to create bots that use Artificial Intelligence, and this is difficult because AI is still in the infancy stage. There is no requirement to even use Artificial Intelligence; many bots have have been really successful just through using a mix of text input with interface elements like buttons and links. In fact, depending on what experience you’re offering to users, guided bots which use graphical user interface elements such as links or buttons can be far more effective.”
More work is needed to improve the chatbot experience and the most forward looking brands are already investing in this. Kik’s CEO, Ted Livingston, said it best on his Medium blog: “Chat apps will come to be thought of as the new browsers; bots will be the new websites. This is the beginning of a new internet.