“Bots are better without the conversation.”

The title of Kik CEO Ted Livingston’s recent Medium post, discussing the relative failure of early brand attempts at chatbots, says it all.

With so many marketers parroting on about customer experience, we may have temporarily lost sight of what users really value – speed and convenience. To borrow a phrase, ‘don’t make me think.’

Kik is a bot platform, which obviously makes Livingston best placed to make an authoritative assertion on the subject.

Here, he adds some more context to the idea of conversation as a red herring:

“I believe we’ll look back on the early emphasis on ‘conversational commerce’ as a mistake.

“Part of the misfire with the conversational aspect of bots has to do with the fact that natural language processing and artificial intelligence are not yet accomplished at managing human-like conversations.”

So, it’s not only users not wanting to think, but bots that are unable to (at least with the requisite accuracy).

Poncho the Weathercat is often cited as a typical chatbot that, whilst it often works, can make for frustrating conversations.

The WeChat template 

In his blog post, Livingston enumerates the advantages of messaging platforms and bots.

They include: 

  • Less friction – one interface to master, a single download and sign-up.
  • Discovery – more sharing of bots, through their inclusion in conversations between friends.
  • Consolidation – fewer apps.
  • Messaging as front door – services within a messenger, not vice versa. 

These are all characteristics of WeChat.

QR codes aid quick discovery. WeChat public accounts (essentially messenger bots) have proliferated rapidly (there are over 10m) and 40% of WeChat users read content from public accounts daily.

Mobile payment is also growing, as a service within Wechat.

Peer-to-peer payment is one of the most used features – WePay popularity has surpassed Alipay (46% use WePay compared to 31% Alipay) in part because of the interface and this social element.

It should be noted that WeChat public accounts, much like the later iterations of Facebook Messenger bots, include menus that further reduce friction when interacting in the messenger channel.

QR codes allow access to public accounts.

wechat qr

So, where do chatbots work well?

WalkTheChat provides a nice summary of challenges that chatbots are best suited for:

Narrow scope: Until artificial intelligence improves dramatically, responses are ultimately tied to decision trees, so a bot must occupy a niche, in order to provide accurate answers.

Wide range of inputs: If input range is narrow (e.g. ecommerce, where form fields are satisfactory), chatbots will only serve to make the experience more drawn out. Chatbots work best when the questions users could ask are manyfold.

Constantly evolving output: User inputs can be analysed in order to constantly improve output. This makes chatbots very useful in customer service situations, if given time to develop. The Alibaba chatbot allows a mixture of free input and multiple choice (often used to clarify input).

Conclusion

More sophisticated AI is creeping into chatbots, but until then, marketers should heed Ted Livingston’s comments.

Experimenting with chatbots is all about failing fast and being well-positioned to take advantage when the technology takes off.

However, marketers shouldn’t lose sight of what the user wants – experiences that are improved via messenger.

The novelty factor is not enough to sustain usage of a service that isn’t quicker or easier than existing solutions.

So, what’s the perfect use case for your business?