Two of the most influential tech innovations that rocketed into our daily lives in the last several years are virtual digital assistants and online chatbots. These AI-driven tools are already impacting the way people live and how companies interact with their customers in just about every industry. It is expected that the market for digital assistants and chatbots will reach more than $7.7 billion by 2025 with 1 billion active users. After sharing a quick definition of virtual digital assistants and chatbots, we’ll review how this technology is used today.
What are virtual digital assistants?
Virtual digital assistants can understand spoken language commands and can complete tasks for people through a combination of user input, location awareness and by accessing online information. While virtual digital assistants such as Alexa and Siri started as modern conveniences to inquire about the weather, traffic reports, latest news and get directions, advances in natural language processing, personalization, and access to a tremendous amount of data have helped virtual digital assistants become powerful marketing and customer service tools.
They are also able to do many things a human assistant can do such as taking dictation, managing schedules, reading emails aloud and placing phone calls. There are many virtual digital assistants on the market today, but Amazon’s Alexa, Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri are all virtual digital assistants you may have heard of. Because virtual digital assistants respond to voice commands, you can use them hands-free such as when you’re driving down the road. The only learning curve required is to learn to speak, so virtual digital assistants are easy to use and great for children and even the most tech-challenged among us. According to research, 62% of those who use voice-activated digital assistants plan to buy something through their smart speaker devices within the next month.
In the case of U.K. Retailer Marks & Spencer, a virtual assistant translates into good business. The company’s virtual assistant has saved it an estimated $2.5 million in sales since it was added to the website. The virtual assistant helps customers troubleshoot discount codes, the loyalty programme and solving almost 70% of other customer issues without needing human intervention.
What are online chatbots?
Chatbots are very similar to virtual digital assistants, but they are often referred to as "conversational agents" because they are meant to interact and converse with real people through either web-based applications or standalone apps through a chat interface. Part of the explosive growth of chatbots is due to the access to user-friendly tools that make it easier to create a chatbot for any business, not just those with access to tech gurus. Chatbots can understand text due to natural language processing and then use algorithms to process the text to determine an appropriate response. Today, the technology is so good that in many cases it can be challenging to know if you're interacting with a bot or a human. As natural language processing becomes better at understanding the nuances of human language, chatbots will continue to improve. Chatbots are used heavily in customer service, marketing, and sales, but there are use cases for just about any business or area of expertise.
Many uses of chatbots
Since chatbots have proven enormously successful (achieving a click-through rate of up to 60%), bots are becoming ubiquitous. Here are a few examples that range from fun to extremely useful:
Marvel: Comic fans love the opportunity to chat with Spiderman and get immersed in the Marvel Universe through its chatbot.
Insomnobot 3000: If you’re an insomniac who is wide awake and bored while the rest of the world sleeps, this bot can keep you company.
Hipmunk: Travel-planners looking to book flights, hotels, rental cars or travel packages often deal with Hipmunk’s Hello chatbots to plan their trips. It uses the visitor’s location to send deals specific to their area right to their Facebook Messenger app.
Whole Foods: Through its chatbot on Facebook Messenger, Whole Foods gives its customers recipes and cooking inspiration. The bot can even understand emojis!
Woebot: This downloadable chatbot is a robotic therapist for those who need mental health support. While it is not intended to replace a licenced therapist, it can help people stay on track with their self-care.
HealthTap: This chatbot responds to users' medical questions, concerns, symptoms, and histories. If the chatbot is unable to respond with sufficient information, the user can get answers from one of the 10,000 physicians who can provide answers.
U-Report: UNICEF deploys its bot to take surveys about pressing social issues which can guide the organisation’s policy recommendations. While this chatbot’s functions may seem limited, it was able to make a huge impact when a survey found that 86% of 13,000 Liberian children polled responded they had been coerced to have sex by their teachers in exchange for better grades. With this information, UNICEF and the Liberian Minister of Education took action.
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.