There’s a lot of hype around artificial intelligence today. And chatbots are one of the primary ways the consumer is made aware of AI.
Chatbots are surprisingly easy to create. And the deluge shows no signs of slowing down, thanks to the hype, the ease of creation, accelerating investments, and the rush of developers. Over 225,000 bot developers have created more than 300,000 bots, reports Pandorabots, a leading chatbot development platform.
In this case, though, there is lots of supply and not so much demand. The rush of supply seems largely due to the “cool factor” of bots, and is not driven by anyone asking their favorite brands to start using chatbots.
Chatbots do well when focused on one task
Dr. BJ Fogg is the founder of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University. When looking at his model of behavior, we see that in order for any shift to be made in consumer behavior, any given chatbot needs to be easier to use than the method being replaced.
Unfortunately, they’re not there yet. Chatbots are still clunky. As of this writing, it’s still easier to call, text or email the company in question.
At this point chatbots seem to do well when they focus on making a single task easier. There are a few that realize the promise of AI, and that are able have more reasonable conversations by using context. At this point, though, many users will still have only bare-bones conversations with most bots.
The sheer number of bots out there presents users with a problem: How is anyone going to know which ones are truly helpful? Sure, some bots may well assist a company’s cost-cutting measures. Still, there is a lot of work needed before any customer gets a measurably better experience.
Right now there are a very few chatbots that provide some real utility and actual value. They provide an inkling of what an interaction with an actually intelligent bot might be. You might notice a theme among the bots picked: They’re more realistic when the user wants to ask one of a group of prearranged questions. They’re at their best when the tasks they handle are specific and clearly defined.
So here’s a list of the eight most useful chatbots out there today, in no particular order:
1. Howdy’s function is to help you run your meetings in Slack. Its founder, Ben Brown, created it with an eye to customization, so that everyone can use its talents of digital assistance and automation. Howdy will reach out to participants and ask them a group of questions to prepare for the meeting. It automates information collection and distribution. It makes meetings shorter by leveraging a shortcoming of human nature — Howdy can talk to many people at once, whereas humans can’t. These answers are then delivered to the meeting leader, and all participants, if the leader chooses to do so. It sure beats copying and pasting the same questions over and over again.
2. HealthTap was launched on Messenger not too long ago. It aims to make good healthcare easier to reach by more people. Not only does it allow a user to get a referral from real doctors, but it also assesses results of tests. All that, and you can ask it health questions as well. If other users have asked similar things, then it will show you those results. Of course, health information can be highly personal, so HealthTap is ideal for those people that have no inhibitions. The company does state that all questions and identity information is kept confidential and anonymous, but the fact that the company may associate a personal Facebook account with certain medical conditions may be a turn-off for some that prefer to keep a tight lid on their health information.
3. Sephora chatbot on Kik. Although it currently exists only on the Kik chat platform, the Sephora chatbot makes it easy for consumers everywhere not only to shop for products, but to get beauty tips as well. Acting like the best in-store assistant, it provides three prime attributes of great customer service: It responds right away, it’s highly educated, and it’s always available. If you’re a member of Kik, it’s like having access to a Sephora team member in your back pocket.
4. X.ai provides Amy, a personal assistant with one function: Amy takes on the task of scheduling meetings, so that you can focus on more important tasks. X.ai has been so successful with Amy because she does only one thing. But that one thing she does extremely well. She’ll schedule meetings without effort, but won’t take notes or solve any other problems for you. Dennis Mortensen, X.ai’s founder has made a huge bet on the thoughts that bots are terrific for any very small task. Due to this laser focus, the bot needs to be just about perfect. Amy is their first attempt, and she makes scheduling conversational and easy.
5. Assist integrates with several on-demand services such as Uber, GrubHub, OpenTable and Lyft. A user can communicate with Assist through Facebook message, a text or by using Assist itself. They can then get a ride, book hotels, or order take-out. Assist uses input from users to improve itself with every question.
6. Ozlo is a more personal AI. At this time available only for iOS, he helps the user find information on their phone both easier and faster. As with other bots, engage Ozlo in a dialogue text conversation, and it will give you answers on Google Now-like cards. Deeper links are also provided to the websites and apps where it found the information. The bot is partnered with other websites and apps such as Foursquare, Yelp, OpenTable and Zagat so he can provide great recommendations. Right now Ozlo is being trained to help people find drinks, eats and entertainment — things that we all do daily. You can get more information about Ozlo from Charles Jolley, one of its chief designers.
7. Pana blends AI with real humans to create an always-on travel agent. Planning a trip is made easier, simpler, more personalized and cheaper with Pana’s skills. Pana can also be your personal concierge, providing vetted choices for places to go and food to eat. Since booking travel these days is mostly a matter of searching the same criteria on many sites, Pana makes booking easier and less time consuming.
8. Birdly is a chatbot that acts as a bridge between Slack and Salesforce, making business-related data accessible to entire teams. Directly on Slack, one thing Birdly can do is manage expenses. This makes things more efficient, as it recognizes data input from invoices or receipts, allowing users to spend less time on expense reports. Birdly also provides analytics, efficient alerting and customer information in one place.