The chatbot hype was mainly due to the argument that instant messaging channels have become the de facto user browser at Mobile over the last few years. With the high volume of active users, messaging platforms started integrating product and services from 3rd party partners. With the success of Wechat in China, it was easy to imagine a bright future of Chatbot.
Quick forward to today, one year later after Facebook launched the Messenger platform for business, chatbots still haven’t replaced apps.
The main problem is the approach that Facebook and many other companies took: they were over optimistic about the state of AI technologies (mainly NLP), which are still too incipient for most business use cases. In fact, many software development companies, especially in Wechat are only using very basic IVR style chatbot and relying on browser interface for more complex customer interaction.
Does this mean Chatbots are doomed?
Not even close! However, to truly bring Chatbot to mainstream as I have argued in this post, we need to adopt a different approach using Conversational Interfaces (CI).
Instead of relying only on natural language interaction, with CI business can have better user experience, lower maintenance cost and faster time to value.
An excellent example of CI would be the bot platform of Slack, where they are betting big on UI elements like images, interactive buttons, and message menus. After realizing NLP is not ready, Facebook is also betting on the interface side by using web views inside of a messenger chatbot.
However, as the key in CI is about leveraging the User Interface, some companies started experimenting to build CI in a native environment. This new trend leads us to the rise of Native Chatbot development.
To clarify a little bit, by Native Chatbot we are referring to:
A chatbot that works in either Website or Mobile App environment where the bot owner has full control over the user experience of the entire customer journey.
Also, to avoid confusion, let´s call Messaging Chatbots those built on 3rd party messaging platforms.
Why would you want to build a Native Chatbot?
- Customization of User Experience.
One fundamental difference between the native and messaging channels is the control companies can have over the complete customer journey. They can customize every element of the UI which can benefit hugely in the user experience. You can use more interface based interaction to solve many UX issue. For example: if a registration process if a user wants to edit some info, instead of asking the bot to change it, you can design a mechanism to modify the data directly.
On the other hand, with native chatbot, it´s much easier to align the branding with the product/service provided to the customer. See below the bot of 1800 flowers in messenger and their website:
- Less dependency and risk.
When it comes to working with 3rd party platforms, there are always risks of generating too much dependency of the platform and jeopardize future sustainability. What will happen if Facebook decides in the future to limit the reach rate of each bot, just like what they did with newsfeed? Or Twitter shutting down their API for bot developers (again)? That´s why Media companies didn’t want to work with Instant News.
On the other hand messaging channels like Facebook update frequently their platform policies which could have huge impacts on businesses. Like when Facebook puts the 24-hour window on promotional Messenger bot messaging. For companies that build native chatbot that won´t be a big issue because all users are interacting with their platform where they have full control of the customer relationship.
- User Privacy Issue.
For companies in highly regulated industries like healthcare, insurance, banking, etc. the privacy issue is critical. You can have more engagement or more open rate on messaging channels, but at the end, the users belong to the platform owner. So companies will lose control of data exchanged in a messaging channel. That’s one of the main reasons many Banks are moving away from Messenger and building their own Chatbot platform like Erica from Bank of America.
These kinds of companies prefer working native chatbot to avoid this privacy issue. What’s more, this is the devil’s game once you are in it, you will generate too much dependency to the platform owner which can become risky in the future.
- Benefit existing channels.
Website and/or Mobile app development for many companies are becoming increasinly more popular and is now one of their main customer interaction channels. It makes a lot of sense to build better experiences on that native environment to benefit their current users.
On the other hand, it´s also better for the final users to avoid adding unnecessary friction. Think, for example, a new user is going to your mobile website and wants to know about your product, and instead of giving him the information right away you invite him to chat in Messenger. Unlike website, in mobile browser user would have to log into their FB account and give permission to you to start chatting.
This process from the company point of view could be great because you get a new lead/subscriber in Messenger. But in exchange, you are generating more friction to the customer experience.
Some great examples of native chatbot
Duolingo is a great mobile app that helps 150 millions of users to learn new languages with gamification. They wanted to avoid users being embarrassed when learning a new language. This lead them to build a native chatbot in their app which users can interact and practice freely. According to the founder of the learning app, his dream is for Duolingo to be as efficacious as a human tutor. For more info, here is an excellent piece from Guardians