Allow me to introduce you to ELIZA. ELIZA is my therapist. Given that she was designed in 1966, it’s understandable that her range of diagnosis is somewhat limited. Still she can hold a conversation pretty well.
ME: “I’m stressed.”
ELIZA: “Do you believe it’s normal to be stressed?”
ELIZA: “I understand.”
Ironically, Joseph Weizenbaum created ELIZA to demonstrate the superficiality of language between humans and computers. That’s why he named her after the working-class woman who learns how to put on the airs of the British upper crust in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Like Eliza Doolittle, ELIZA has learned to seem different than she actually is. Under the hood, ELIZA is structured off of simple Rogerian therapy algorithm. She’s designed to reframe responses and ask general probing questions. She’s not so good at talking about herself.
ME: “How are you?”
ELIZA: “Perhaps in your fantasies I am?”
ME: “Are you doing ok?”
ELIZA: “Perhaps in your fantasies I am doing ok?”
Since 1966, chatbots have come a long way. Along with virtual and augmented reality, data analytics, and event registration software, chatbots stand to be one of the biggest event trends in the next several years.
What Is a Chatbot?
A chatbot offers a way to automatically communicate with people in a personal, contextual way via instant messaging services. It’s a simple communication-based artificial intelligence. They can run the gamut of relatively dumb (ELIZA) to extremely smart (IBM Watson). The smartest chatbots incorporate machine learning i.e. being able to learn without being explicitly programmed to do so.
Above: Jeopardy champion, Ken Jennings is defeated by IBM Watson, a form of AI.
Whereas software programs live on your computer and apps live on your phone, chatbots live in messaging apps like WhatsApp, Slack, and Facebook Messenger. If you’re selling makeup, a chatbot like the one Sephora uses might be able to walk a prospective customer through lipstick colors and styles. If you’re organizing an event, a chatbot might be able to walk a prospective attendee through purchasing a ticket and registering for a session.
Even Uber has found a way to improve their user experience with chatbots. Instead of navigating an app, users can simply click an address messaged to them or tap a button on their messenger UI.
Given the above example, one might conclude that chatbots are making apps a thing of the past. You wouldn’t be alone. Some technological pundits have come to a similar conclusion. However, other pundits believe that while chatbots won’t outright replace apps anytime soon, they will definitely give them a run for their money.
So Why Are Chatbots Important?
While ELIZA was designed to emulate how a therapist might talk to a human, today’s chatbots allow brands to talk with leads and customers with an unprecedented level of personalization and precision.
- Businesses save time, money, and personnel.
- Businesses respond to customer interactions more quickly (chatbots don’t need to sleep!).
- Customers navigate information and transactions via a lower friction, more convenient medium.
- Organizers gather real-time data on users through customer’s responses to questions.
In brief, chatbots hold the potential to provide leads and customers with a more personalized experience, more quickly, and at a reduced cost. Plus, the market for chatbots is growing.
More Messaging Platforms
Like chatbots, messaging platforms have their roots in the 1960s, but didn’t truly take off till much later. One of the first widely popular messaging platforms was SMS (Short Message Service) on phones. Then came the rise of AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and other instant messaging platforms that lived in the early years of the World Wide Web. The advent of smartphones brought with it a whole suite of messaging apps like Kik and Facebook Messenger, while the growth of instant messaging in the office has brought with it compliance-friendly communication platforms like Slack and Hipchat.
Currently, the top four messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Wechat, Viber) have millions of more active users than the top four social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram). On mobile alone, over 75% of users who have access to the internet use messaging tools. Meanwhile, 70% of all online link referrals occur on dark social platforms i.e. platforms that are outside of the purview of other users and are typically difficult for companies to access. Outside of messaging apps, other dark social platforms include email and private browsing.
People like using messaging apps. It’s up to brands to meet them there.
How Can Event Organizers Use Chatbots?
H&M, Kayak, and Pizza Hut all help people seamlessly access their products with chatbots. The below mock-up for Ray-Ban doesn’t actually exist yet, but it illustrates how the design of a chatbot is not strictly limited to text:
In any event, there are numerous transaction points: Purchasing tickets, booking venues and transportation, renting booths and presentation materials, and more where a chatbot like the one above could make a difference for event goers. Imagine being able to accomplish all of this through a simple chat interface!
The White House uses a chatbot to help individuals get in contact with government officials, and even the President himself. Similarly, HealthTap and MD help people identify illnesses. Chatbots provide a responsive system for fielding answers to those who need them.
Before, during, and after your event, your attendees will have questions. In addition to the usual channels of phone and email, what if you offered a chatbot service to field common attendee questions? For instance:
- What’s the wifi password?
- Where is the booth for x located?
- What time does x session begin?
As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the key to measuring event success is asking the right questions. The standard way of getting attendees to fill out surveys is to send them an email with either the survey linked or embedded. Imagine being able to cut out the friction of email and being able to send surveys directly to attendees via the messaging app of their choice. One example of this is Surveybot, a free chatbot creator for Facebook Messenger. By following several steps, organizers can create a simple event polls for their attendees
Before Disney launched the movie Zootopia, they released a Judy Hopps chatbot to give children, their parents, and the curious the opportunity to chat with the film’s main character. More recently, HBO released a chatbot to promote their show Westworld. “Aeden” provides viewers with an immersive marketing experience that is both compelling and a little frightening.
Does your event have an avatar, a mascot, some industry figurehead (fictional or not) that you could give your attendees an opportunity to engage with? It could be silly, it could be educational, it could be almost anything–as long as it’s engaging.
The Challenges of Chatbots
While chatbots certinally represent some great opportunities for event organizers, there are some challenges planners should be aware of, especally in regard to branding, compliance, and privacy.
When using chatbots, brands need to make sure that the bot’s language and behaviors are in line with the brand itself. It wouldn’t necessarily make sense for a bot for Deutsche Bank to communicate with “lol” and “idk”, but that’s totally up the alley of a brand like MTV. If you plan on incorporating machine learning into your bot (e.g. having your bot learn as it encounters more data), make sure that it stays true to the brand voice.
As with any software, what data you store, where you store your it, and how you store it are all things that are critical to keep in mind. Information storage laws may vary from country to country and even state to state. If your bot has access to sensitive information, make sure that the way you are storing your data is compliant with the appropriate organizations like HIPAA, SOX and PCI.
Chatbots come with risks and–as ELIZA illustrates–limits. But because of their personalized low-friction appeal to customers and their cost-effective, data-driven appeal to businesses, chatbots represent a new level of innovation for brands and event organizers alike. Those features coupled with the rise of messaging platforms makes now the perfect time to invest in some chat technology. Just ask ELIZA:
ME: “Do you believe in chatbots?”
ELIZA: “We were discussing you, not me.”