Good-bye Apps, Hello Chatbots?1 June 30, 2016 at 1:11 pm by Catherine Smola
We often marvel at the speed of technological advancement, but every so often one development stands out. Consider that just eight years after Steve Jobs introduced the App Store, mobile apps may become much less prevalent than today. Their replacement: sophisticated computer programs that can simulate natural human conversation. Good-by apps, hello chatbots?
Apps In Decline?
Research shows two trends regarding mobile app usage:
- Most people use only five apps core to their daily lives on a regular basis
- When users download a new app, it’s very likely they will use it only once
- The most popular apps are social media and instant messaging
Currently, smartphone users have to open and cycle through multiple apps for different tasks – planning a trip, checking the weather, buying a present and booking an Uber ride all require different apps. Opening and closing apps is not a smooth way to operate (though Apple recently unveiled improvements in this area), particularly if the information you need from the weather app has a direct impact on when you book your vacation. Furthermore, when you open the travel app, it has no way of knowing you want to see weather information for a specific destination at a specific time.
Simply put, apps lack context – they provide the same information in the same way, unaware that the actions you take in one app are related to the information you want from another.
Rise of the Chatbot
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made waves this April when he declared the popular Messenger app was open for chatbots. Companies can set up their chatbots inside Messenger and other third-party apps, allowing users to engage with that company inside the Messenger app to ask questions and receive basic service. The chatbots, in turn, use sophisticated programming to understand the user’s request, provide exactly the required information, and do so in a way that is conversational and natural. Users could potentially complete entire transactions this way, using their instant messaging apps to research and purchase almost anything they do via apps and websites today.
Most importantly, chatbots could potentially access a users’ entire profile and account history, using that information to understand the context of any given query and provide increasingly customized service. Chatbots could very well replace most standalone apps on the market, unifying the customer experience in a single location.
Chatbots and Insurance
One company, Spixii, is already developing chatbots for the insurance space. A sample conversation between the platform and Rick, a beta tester needing travel insurance, looked like this:
Spixii: Where are you going?
Rick: I’m going to Le Mans next month.
Spixii: Do you mean the 24 hour race on the 18-19th June? That sounds cool, Rick. I see the long-range weather forecast is looking good for the race. Let me ask you about your travel plans. When will you go out to France?
And so on. The chatbot not only knew what information it needed to underwrite the policy, but was able to obtain it in a conversational manner, identifying and discussing relevant information about events and the weather much like a human would.
The development of chatbots is closely related to big data and cognitive computing, which I have written about previously. Apps are likely here to stay, but the potential for chatbots to fulfill many customer needs is significant. As our industry seeks to transform the customer experience, building web portals and mobile apps for customer use, it should investigate the possibilities of chatbots as well.
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