Bots, bots, bots and does your Product really need one?

It seems that chat bots are the next thing that are starting to enter mainstream communication platforms. Granted, they have been around for a while, but since Slack's dominance has grown in the workplace and beyond and Facebook releasing their Messenger Platform, they seem to have finally hit the big time. The question I ask today is does your Product need a chat bot in addition or as a replacement to what you as a company offer already?

Before we begin there are certain assumptions I am making about your product.

  • Your product is B2C (Business to Consumer)
  • Your product is currently or will be a website or mobile app
  • Your need some sort of interaction with your consumer to operate

I generally agree that there are a lot of advantages to chat bots, in my mind the sales pitch works. Message platforms already have an established base of users (eg ~1Billion in the case of Facebook Messenger), it is not yet another app for your potential customer to install, the interface is more natural and forgiving to users (compared with a web form).

There are some holes in the above though, Slack apps are already suffering from discoverability issues as more companies integrate with the platform it becomes increasingly difficult to find new integrations that might be worth using. The platform also assumes some level of AI (I use this term very loosely), for example online shopping has been used as potential avenue, but I cannot see myself browsing either Ocado when wanting to do my grocery shopping or Amazon looking for an item simply due to the sheer number of items that both platforms offer. This just shows that there is still some technology that needs to fill the gap or more importantly some clever design that needs to occur.

We finally get the crux of the matter, what bots really offer is a design opportunity, especially to an established business. It allows your business to really focus on the core interaction you have with your customers without the excess of branding and styling a website/mobile app. The focus is on what pieces of information, what bits of data do you need to offer your product to a customer. It is then working out if you can infer any of this information without a question (because reducing clicks still matters). Once you have done this you have the core of your product, if anyone was to ask 'what do you offer?', this set of questions & the corresponding answers is it.

So really does your product need a chat-bot? most likely 'No' as it is still early days. However, I would use the technology as a chance to revisit the design of your product, to nail down the core interactions in the minimalistic interface that a chat window offers. This process will reveal the core product of the business and how it adds value to the lives of your customers, an excellent way to connect a team to the heart of a business.