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Chatbots are game changers in our daily life

The availability of chatbots has increased in recent months, helping us to buy plane tickets, find a movie to watch, or to manage our bank accounts... Analysis by Josselin Moreau, innovation expert at SQLI Lab.

The precursors of the chatbot were the virtual agents who would reply (usually badly) to our questions on e-commerce sites. You know the kind of thing, pop-ups that opened to ask you if you had a question for Alice, a young blonde woman with a bright smile.

Today, chatbots offer the possibility of much more intelligent conversational agents."Since 2010, there has been significant progress in AI in machine learning, especially in the area of image recognition and natural language", explains Josselin Moreau."This has made conversation with bots much more fluid. Previously, most of them just provided links to pages on the site by doing a search for key words in the question. Today, they are much more accurate and can understand whole sentences, putting them into context."

Brands immediately saw the potential of such technology for interaction with their customers, across numerous sectors: retail, banking, fast moving consumer goods, transport, etc. And there are many different types of possible interaction, from recommendations, to advice and after-sales service.

KLM offers a service that combines chatbots with human interaction to give information to travellers about their journey and provide after-sales service, while online retail sites use them to recommend products to users", cites Josselin Moreau as examples.

Another French example is Bankin’, a fintech that we have already written about, which claims to be a "financial coach" in your pocket. You can ask it the balances of your accounts, recent transactions, etc. The bot even offers advice such as, "you pay 4% interest on your mortgage, you know you could renegotiate it?". Finally, chatbots can also be used for communication initiatives, like the bot created for the release of the last Call of Duty, which sends puzzles for users to solve and thereby gain access to exclusive content.

"Chatbots have varying degrees of complexity: some just invite you to choose from a limited number of possible answers, while others are designed to adapt to an open conversation with the user", explains Josselin Moreau."In any case, there can be no doubt that there is a real trend for chatbots. All the brands want to bring out their own, but they are are not always successful...".

The opening of Facebook Messenger to bots in March 2016 has accelerated the process. But this isn't the only messaging platform that has been colonized by chatbots: WhatsApp, Slack, WeChat (the leader in Asia) are also in the race.

It has to be said that these conversational agents have many advantages over apps..."There’s no need to download them or learn how to use a new interface. They are also easier to develop because you don’t need different versions for each type of smartphone", points out Josselin Moreau."Chatbots also allow interaction to be associated with the person’s identity, and the keeping of a history of exchanges within a single conversation, which is good for the brand... and the consumer!"