I’m already looking forward to 2017. Early next year, we’re going to open up a chatbot application programming interface (API) for BBM. It will enable new and existing businesses on BBM with a conversational interface complementing what we offer with channels & discover services.
We think chatbots represent an extension of how we already interact with others via messaging, to now secure services, get answers, and complete tasks. (If you’re wondering what a chatbot is, here’s a good primer from Chatbots Magazine.)
The apps wars are over. Messaging won.
I’ve seen so much data this year showing that the era of the app is coming to an end. People are installing fewer apps on their phones. For the few they are downloading, they only open most of them once. People really only “heavily use” about 5 apps.
What are those few apps? Messaging consistently tops the charts. BBM is a perfect example: Once people install it, they keep it and use. We have one of the lowest uninstall rates of apps globally.
Messaging apps have now surpassed social media in the amount of time we spend on them.
Bots are the next phase of evolution in messaging
People are clearly spending their mobile time in messaging apps. That’s where they want to be. That’s where we can offer valuable services, and that’s where brands can reach them.
This is where chatbots come in. They work inside messaging apps to provide useful services via conversation-based interactions.
Let’s say you just saw a post in your feed from an eCommerce provider, whose channel you subscribed to, and you are curious to get more details. One option is to go search on the web try to locate that deal, and maybe even call them via the phone. All very cumbersome. Whereas with a bot capability, you could simply send a message to the business inquiring about the item with the item number. The business is now able to respond automatically to the request, without involving a human. And if the conversation goes beyond the capabilities of the bot, it can be routed to a contact center person. What is important to note is that the whole interaction took place in messaging, and the person never had to leave or go outside the messaging app environs. This amalgamation is what makes bots so exciting and powerful.
Certainly, there are much simpler use cases too. You want to find out the exchange rates for the day. A simple message to an exchange rate bot can deliver answers quickly.
Easier and faster for consumers
For consumers, chatbots offer a better solution than apps for a number of reasons. First, there’s no need to find, download, install and maintain dozens of apps on your phone for all the services you regularly use. The bots are simply there when you want them.
Second, bots let customers ask for what they want and get it faster. By combining search technology with a natural language interface, bots can save a lot of scrolling time.
Third, when consumers have the choice, most prefer self-service channels to talking with a representative. This study found that 64% of consumers would prefer to use texting over voice as a customer service channel. This is especially true for millennials. Chatbots really offer the best of both worlds here, providing a 24/7, fast, language-based service that doesn’t require waiting on hold or engaging with a real person. They are also “available” for follow-up questions in a way that other self-service channels are not.
More cost-efficient for businesses
For businesses, chatbots are a simpler alternative than building or maintaining an app. It’s easier to enable services through an already-established ecosystem like a social network or messaging app than to build and market your own. And what may be more important is that chatbots can make it fun to engage with a brand.
From the business standpoint, chatbots offer a much less expensive solution than paying people to instant message with customers. Of course, people will always do a better job with some tasks, but bots can answer simple questions faster than people, and even send links, pictures, or videos to further explain.
Chatbots can also encourage interaction with content, such as news or entertainment. And as mentioned above, they can also help with productivity by offering easy ways to make purchases, call for transportation, schedule deliveries, order food or any number of other things.
To bring it full circle, businesses can use this technology to escort their customers all the way through the sales funnel—from brand awareness to sales and repeat sales, offering support (and collecting data) all along the way. By tracking customer behavior and purchasing patterns from chatbots, brands can gather valuable insight into target markets, product performance, and other business opportunities. The possibilities are endless.
Coming soon: BBM API for chatbots
See why I’m excited for 2017? We’re opening up our bot API early in the year. For developers and businesses looking to tap into our active user base, consider this your formal invitation to participate. What bot will you build?