Most Americans Have Never Heard of Chatbots, Yet Most Businesses Want Them


Social Media Week

Was 2016 the year of the bot? Just one in five Americans say they have heard of “chatbots,” yet businesses are increasingly turning to automated messaging and AI for customer service, operational efficiencies and everything in between.

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“Chatbot” was one of the biggest technology buzzwords in 2016, yet only 22 percent of Americans have heard of chatbots, per a new report from DigitasLBi that was fielded in conjunction with Harris Poll.

Despite the increasing number of businesses that are implementing chatbots for functions such as shopping, customer service and even HR/talent development, many Americans outside of the tech world could not describe what a chatbot does. That said, a recent Oracle survey found that 80 percent of businesses want to have chatbots for consumer-facing products by 2020.

Per Chatbots Magazine – yes, there’s a magazine for that – chatbots are defined as those services that are “powered by rules and sometimes artificial intelligence, that you interact with via a chat interface.” Another way to define chatbots, per a previous post by Dennis R. Mortensen, CEO & Founder of x.ai, are simple pieces of software that a user interacts with via conversational UI.

Millennials will recall earlier forms of chatbots, such as “Smarterchild,” which existed within AOL Instant Messenger. In the late 90s and early 00s, these automated profiles could be used to ask for weather updates, movie times and more. The present-day incarnations of chatbots operate in a similar capacity, but are much more sophisticated, and much more pervasive in their use cases. Facebook launched its own chatbot platform in April 2016, and now more than 11,000 bots exist within the environment.

Following behind business adoption, the Google Trends chart below shows a sustained uptick in consumer interest in “chatbots” from 2014 to 2016.

Today’s chatbots utilize machine learning to get smarter over time, allowing companies to share relevant, valuable information automatically. Given the rise of messaging apps and developments in artificial intelligence, many organizations are dabbling in chatbots to solve various business challenges – both consumer-facing and internally via bots that sync with platforms like Slack, Google and Microsoft to streamline operations, employee trainings and everything in between.

While many organizations implement chatbots to optimize processes and/or cut labor costs, some experts argue that the rise of AI will create new jobs as it eliminates others. Regardless of ongoing debates around job automation, the future is here: Forbes has referred to 2016 as “the year of the bot” and all signs point to more mainstream adoption – both within and beyond marketing – as we near 2017.

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Katie Perry

Contributor, Social Media Week

Katie Perry is a marketing & content strategist and contributor to SMW News, a leading news platform covering startups, tech, brands and the future of work. You can follow Katie on Twitter at @katieeperry.



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