Are Chatbots Actually Dead on Arrival?

It’s been a wild year for chatbots. After Facebook announced the launch of the Messenger Platform with bot support at F8 2016, AI-powered messaging took off. In just over a year, Messenger grew to include over 100,000 developers and 100,000 chatbots.

But while the tech industry has been ablaze with chatbot chatter for over a year, there’s been one small problem—Messenger bots were failing to fulfill about 70% of user requests.  

As a result, we’ve been speeding through what feels like 10 Gartner hype cycles for chatbots. One day pundits are declaring them the future of computing and the next day chatbots are dead. And yet, the slow grind of chatbot adoption has continued.

Some companies declare chatbots as massive successes for customer engagement while others, like Everlane’s, have flopped. The problem is that media focuses so much on the chatbot world as it exists on top of third-party platforms such as Facebook Messenger or even Amazon Alexa.

They’re missing the real story. Chatbots aren’t dying young—they’re taking off in native apps.

The Rise of Chatbots in Native Apps

Everlane, an Early Facebook Messenger Partner, Is Backtracking

Everlane was one of the first two partners on Facebook Messenger for business. They got into the service in 2015 before the chatbot services went mainstream after the 2016 announcement.

Despite two years of using Messenger bots as a notification tool to send shipping confirmations and build stronger relationships with customers, Everlane recently decided to go back to email. For this retailer, the chatbot hype had run its course and it was time to go back to tried-and-true means of customer engagement.

Does this mean that chatbots don’t work? Definitely not. And while we’ve talked about chatbots as just a small piece of an overall messaging strategy, there’s another problem at the heart of Messenger bot disillusionment—disconnection from existing conversation channels.

Third-party platforms like Facebook Messenger have massive user bases, but that doesn’t mean those users are completely aligned with your customers.

You’re asking customers to live within your digital experience and then ship them over to Messenger for certain conversations. Add to this the fact that brands are often pushing Messenger bots beyond their limits and you end up with an ineffective customer conversation experience.

To make up for the Messenger limitations that became clear in use cases like Everlane’s, Facebook is narrowing the pool of potential questions/answers to ensure effectiveness. However, this limits your control over customer conversations and will ultimately drive you toward a new strategy.

If you choose to implement a chatbot within your native mobile experience, you can maintain control and maximize the effectiveness of customer conversations.

Examples of Native Chatbots That Are Succeeding

Even if there’s some churn in these early days of third-party chatbots, they won’t disappear—they’ll just evolve. However, if you want to foster stronger customer relationships and drive greater loyalty, your best strategy is to move toward native integration.

Here are just a few examples of brands that are succeeding with native chatbots:

  • Jobr Career Concierge by Monster: Jobr’s in-house data scientist created a Layer conversation with their “Career Concierge” bot inside their mobile apps to solicit user feedback, provide support and ultimately drive higher customer satisfaction and app store ratings. A blend of bot automation and human interaction, Career Concierge been a wild success, leading to App Store ratings consistently above 4.5 stars and nearly 80% inquiries being automated. They’ve recently rolled it out to their employer side on Jobr for Business as Recruiter Concierge.
  • Olivia.ai: Recent Planet of the Apps contestant Olivia.ai is an intelligent personal finance assistant, delivered via a dedicated mobile app. Users have the entire self-contained, proprietary experience at their fingertips and can query Olivia about their spending habits as well as tips for saving money.
  • Alexa and Amazon Support Bot in the Native Amazon App: Amazon is doubling down on in-app bots, with Alexa voice assistant famously making its way into the native Amazon app, and the Amazon Messaging Assistant bot taking over many support requests on mobile. Amazon is leading the way on both voice commerce and hybrid human-bot support interactions on mobile.
  • Staples Bot: Staples worked with Layer and IBM Watson to build a powerful artificial intelligence engine within its mobile app. Customers can interact with the chatbot to quickly identify (and purchase) the right products) via a Layer messaging interface.
  • Erica by Bank of America: In late 2016, Bank of America announced the development of Erica, a voice-based AI banking system. The chatbot is meant to add a new dimension to customer relationships, helping users improve their finances through self-service and pushing them to human agents when necessary. It is slated to launch at the end of this year.

These examples of native chatbots aren’t necessarily meant to provide exact solutions for your business, but rather to give you some ideas as to how you could create a superior customer experience using bots without having your users ever leave your mobile app.

Bots Don’t Kill Apps. Bots Make Apps Better.

Benefits of an app-first bot strategy include:

  • Customizability: From powerful server-side logic, to rich, interactive messages, choosing a native app as the UX for your bot allows you to tailor the experience entirely for your (and your customers’) specific needs.
  • Ownership of Customer Relationship: Social messaging platforms like Facebook, Telegram and Kik are great for capturing intent higher up the funnel, but when you acquire a customer using their platforms, the customer ultimately belongs to the platform provider, not to you. That didn’t work out so well for media companies.
  • Control Over Data: In a similar vein as the above, your access to your customers’ data is both limited by the platform’s policies and shared with them. Your customer data is gold, and if you don’t own and control it, you might be helping train a platform’s general intelligence engine to serve a competitor in your industry who pays the platform owner more money.
  • Reduced Friction for Loyal Customers: Imagine being a valued customer in the top 5-10% of a company’s clientele. You already use the company’s app frequently to make purchases or modify your account, are you really going to want to be kicked out to a social media application when it comes time to talk to that company?  

All that being said, we at Layer see tremendous value in leveraging third-party platforms for bots like Facebook and Kik, and if your customers want to start their journey with you there before moving down the purchase funnel and downloading your app (or bookmarking your mobile website), your conversation platform should be able to integrate with multiple communications channels seamlessly.

With Layer’s robust Server API and Webhooks, you can acquire a customer via a Facebook ad with a Messenger call-to-action, convert that user to a customer and point them to download your dedicated app. With Layer, the conversation is waiting for them once they install and setup your app, and you never miss a beat.

You might expect a lengthy and complicated development process for a native chatbot. Third-party platforms like Messenger just seem easier. But with a customer conversation platform like Layer underneath it all, you can get to market quickly with a product that people will actually use and enjoy.

If you want to learn more about how Layer can help you implement a native chatbot to help you unlock the true potential of AI, contact us today for a free demo.