Chat platforms are quickly becoming the new social media, creating meteoric growth for platforms such as Slack. More than 3 million users from companies including NASA, eBay, and Inc. already use Slack, which has been working to integrate chatbots capable of making everyone’s job easier.
In the past year, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon have all created APIs for chatbots and artificial intelligence assistants. They’ve joined the hundreds of millions of users in Asia who interact with bots through Line and WhatsApp.
Chatbots are positioned to serve as digital assistants, with the ability to handle basic tasks such as scheduling meetings, answering routine questions, and setting follow-up reminders. They have rapidly become the hottest technology resource in the business world.
Modern artificial intelligence technology seamlessly links services and provides a human feel to automated tasks. Chatbots can traverse the application programming interfaces of dozens of proprietary and third-party systems that workers use during the course of a business day. This interconnectivity can streamline operational functions and allow small businesses and entrepreneurs to compete with larger enterprises in ways that previously were not possible.
In short, AI chatbots are the future of business.
Putting Bots to Work
Regardless of the size of your business, you are likely juggling more software platforms than you can handle on a daily basis. The biggest appeal of chatbots is their ability to navigate multiple systems, essentially “hiding” the underlying software behind a familiar interface.
This effectively creates a single platform for you to simultaneously collaborate with human colleagues and business data. Unifying everything within a single interface provides entry-level employees as well as C-suite executives with powerful tools to perform a wider variety of organizational tasks.
Imagine a CEO who is attempting to file an expense report but forgets her password. After unsuccessfully attempting to remember her password, she eventually resets it, navigates the clunky user interface, and submits the report nearly 45 minutes later. That’s time that the organization will never recoup. In fact, more than 21 percent of the average executive’s time is spent dealing with various reports. Chatbots can automate the entire process in a fraction of the time.
Overstock, for example, is using a chatbot named Mila to notify team members when an employee is sick, coordinate scheduling, and handle other relatively mundane tasks. This approach can free up valuable staff time in smaller companies and allow employees to concentrate on more pressing matters.
Integrating Chatbots Into Your Startup
If you’re seeking a way to integrate chatbots into your startup, platforms such as Slack, Facebook Messenger, and Microsoft Teams offer great avenues to become more familiar with the technology. Once you’ve messed around with the tools, you can begin to envision how you might use them to improve your business.
To reap the rewards of chatbots, your startup should begin with a few attainable steps:
- Look for easy targets.Take a look at the tasks that consume most of your team’s time. These are the pain points you can address to eliminate unnecessary work and liberate your colleagues. Figure out exactly what takes the most time, and outline those tasks in detail to determine whether chatbots can assist with certain duties. Some of the eliminated duties might include customer service, social media management, and personal assistance.
- Let the team decide.Because of the unprecedented rise and success of Slack, dozens of competing platforms have enjoyed similar growth. Let your team try several different platforms and choose for themselves which they’re most comfortable using. Unifying everyone on one platform will be much easier if all of your team members have a say in the decision.
- Have some fun.Not every chatbot is designed to increase productivity. We use the HeyTaco! app for Slack, which allows users to send virtual tacos to co-workers. It has no advanced AI or any other bells and whistles — just tacos. At the end of the week, the app tallies up the tacos and gives us a chance to see who’s atop the office leaderboard.
It’s OK to embrace the fun side of your business. Don’t be the boss who bans fun from the office and stifles employee creativity. While it might seem superfluous, a 2011 study of Generation Y workers found that workplace fun has a direct effect on job satisfaction, task performance, and interpersonal behavior.
- Form a strategy.Consider how complex you want your chatbot to be. If the tasks it will handle are incredibly focused, your bot might only require simple conditional logic. If you plan to have the bot tackle broad or more complex queries, you might want to use a language processing service such as IBM Watson.
- Build your own.Once the team becomes more comfortable using chatbots, you can brainstorm some ideas to potentially create your own bot. Chat is an incredibly powerful tool, and there has never been a better time to jump on board. A strong social media presence is a requirement in the business world today, and it will soon be equally important to be active on chat platforms.
Future-Proof Your Startup
It almost seems counterintuitive that people seem eager to move back to chat platforms — the technology has been around for decades, after all — but they offer incredible communication and collaboration tools for personal and business matters. Advances in AI technology are taking things a step further by transforming chat apps into a new way to navigate the internet.
With wearable technology and mixed reality becoming more prolific, it’s only a matter of time before chat platforms such as Slack, WhatsApp, Line, and Kik become the UI standard. There are already thousands of bots crawling around dozens of chat platforms that boast more than 1.4 billion monthly users from every demographic.
Hopping aboard the chatbot bandwagon now will help lead to success and should future-proof your startup against the next rising star that tries to take a piece of your market.
Image Credit: CC by Matthew Hurst
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