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A chatbot (sometimes referred to as a chatterbot) is programming that simulates the conversation or "chatter" of a human being through text or voice interactions. Chatbot virtual assistants are increasingly being used to handle simple, look-up tasks in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) environments. The addition of chatbot assistants not only reduces overhead costs by making better use of support staff time, it also allows companies to provide a level of customer service during hours when live agents aren't available.
Chatbots can have varying levels of complexity and can be stateless or stateful. A stateless chatbot approaches each conversation as if it was interacting with a new user. In contrast, a stateful chatbot is able to review past interactions and frame new responses in context. Adding a chatbot to a company's service or sales department requires low or no coding; today, a number of chatbot service providers that allow developers to build conversational user interfaces for third-party business applications.
Perhaps the most important aspect of implementing a chatbot is selecting the right natural language processing (NLP) engine. If the user interacts with the bot through voice, for example, then the chatbot requires a speech recognition engine. Business owners also have to decide whether they want structured or unstructured conversations. Chatbots built for structured conversations are highly scripted, which simplifies programming but restricts the kinds of things that the users can ask.
In business-to-business environments, chatbots are commonly scripted and used to respond to frequently asked questions or perform simple, repetitive calls to action. In sales, for example, a chatbot may be a quick way for sales reps to get phone numbers. Chatbots can also be used in service departments, assisting service agents in answering repetitive requests. For example, a service rep might provide the chatbot with an order number and ask when the order was shipped. Generally, once a conversation gets too complex for a chatbot, the call or text window will be transferred to a human service agent.
How chatbots work
Chatbots such as ELIZA and PARRY were early attempts at creating programs that could at least temporarily fool a real human being into thinking they were having a conversation with another person. PARRY's effectiveness was benchmarked in the early 1970s using a version of a Turing test; testers only made the correct identification of human vs. chatbot at a level consistent with making a random guess.
Chatbots have come a long way since then. They are built on AI technologies, including deep learning, natural language processing
Examples of chatbot uses
Chatbot use is on the rise, both in the business and consumer markets. As chatbots get better, consumers have less to quarrel about in interacting with them. Between advanced technology and a societal transition to more passive, text-based communication, chatbots help fill a niche that phone calls used to fill.
Chatbots have been used in instant messaging (IM) applications and online interactive games for many years but have recently segued into business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) sales and services. Chatbots can be added to a buddy list or provide a single game player with an entity to interact with while awaiting other "live" players. If the bot is sophisticated enough to pass the Turing test, the person may not even know they are interacting with a computer program.
In sales, chatbots are being used to assist consumers shopping online, either by answering noncomplex product questions or providing helpful information that the consumer could later search for, including shipping price and availability. Chatbots are also used in service departments, assisting service agents in answering repetitive requests. Once a conversation gets too complex for a chatbot, it will be transferred to a human service
Chatbots are also in use as virtual assistants -- conversational assistants that help people navigate their daily lives. Apple, Amazon, Google
Why chatbots are important
The time savings and efficiency derived from AI chatbots conversing and answering reoccurring questions
As consumers continue to move away from traditional forms of communication, chat-based communication methods are expected to rise. Chatbot-based virtual assistants are increasingly used to handle simple tasks, freeing human agents to focus on higher-profile service or sales cases.