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The chatbots are here, and while it remains to be seen whether they are a useful technology or merely a passing fad, many brands are already putting them to work.

Here are five examples.

Sephora

Earlier this year, beauty brand Sephora launched a chatbot on Kik, a popular messaging app.

The chatbot prompts Kik users who message it to provide more information about themselves through a quiz, and then offers personalised beauty tips, product recommendations and reviews.

In addition, Kik users can purchase products that are referenced in chat without leaving the Kik app.

While Sephora's Kik chatbot obviously can't provide the same kind of experience the company's customers receive in-store, it saw Kik as a natural fit for reaching a key part of its customer base.

"Through our partnership with Kik, we saw an opportunity to engage with new and existing clients, particularly with the highly mobile/connected audience of Gen-Z and younger millennials, through a fun, new social platform," the company stated.

Uber

Need a ride? Well if you're among the 1bn people who use Facebook Messenger, then you can hail an Uber using a chatbot within the messaging app.

Rides can be requested by starting a conversation with the Uber chatbot, which will also provide status updates.

In addition, Uber's integration allows users to request rides from within their Facebook Messenger conversations with other users by clicking on an address.

HealthTap

Chatbot experiences often leave a lot to be desired, and while this will almost certainly improve as AI technology advances, there is an opportunity for services that combine human and computer interaction.

Case in point: Digital health upstart HealthTap allows Facebook Messenger users to connect with more than 100,000 real doctors.

But understanding that many of the questions those users might ask have been asked and answered before, the company has added chatbot functionality to its Messenger integration.

When users ask a question, HealthTap's bot searches for similar questions and can provide past answers that might be useful before it offers to send the user's question to its network of doctors.

Bank of America

Bank of America is working with Facebook to build a Messenger chatbot that will "help clients stay connected to their finances whenever and wherever they choose."

Initially, the chatbot will provide functionality such as real-time alerts, but it's not hard to imagine a future in which bank chatbots provide customers with access to account data and allow them to perform transactions.

In fact, chatbot MyKai - a "banking bot" that is available through Facebook Messenger, Slack, WhatsApp and SMS - already offers that functionality.

Developed by Kasisto, a startup spun out of SRI International, which developed the technology behind Siri, the MyKai technology is already being used by banks like Singapore-based DBS.

RBS, which developed its own technology, also plans to put chatbots to work.

Pizza Hut

Those with a late night craving no longer have to think twice about picking up the phone to order a hot pie.

Pizza Hut, the global restaurant chain that has over 15,000 locations, now accepts orders through Facebook Messenger and Twitter chatbots

For Pizza Hut, building chatbots was all about making it as easy as possible for customers to order food.

"We are committed to our servicing our customers in the most convenient way and meeting them in the channels they already prefer," Baron Concors, Pizza Hut's Chief Digital Officer, explained.

Facebook Messenger users who interact with the company's chatbot will be able to connect their Messenger accounts to their Pizza Hut accounts so that the chatbot will have access to their order history.

This enables Pizza Hut to personalise offers and make it easy for customers to quickly reorder their favorite menu items.

Rival pizza chain Domino's has also launched its own chatbot. Read Nikki Gilliland's review to find out more.

Patricio Robles

Published 18 August, 2016 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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