Are chatbots a fad or the future? Over the last two or three years chatbots have become the defacto application of artificial intelligence. Adoption of chatbots varies depending on where in the planet you are located in but one thing is certain: this sector is growing very fast.
To give you and idea of how interesting this sector is, and if you’re interested in understanding how chatbots can enhance the education system, checkout my interview with Apurva Muthe, co-founder of Tinkerbot, an educational chatbot he created to change the educational system in India.
With that said, today we might question the utility of a bot, but I do believe than in a few years our friends will have their own personal chatbot that answers for them; as well as businesses.
Chatbots are a hot topic and I jump at the opportunity to learn about any topic. So on this episode of the Big Bang podcast I’m joined by Patricia Durán of Planeta Chatbot to talk about The State of Chatbots in Spain and Europe.
Patricia, graduated in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication from the Rey Juan Carlos University of Madrid. Currently she’s responsible for Content and Communication of Planeta Chatbot, the first webmagazine + event on chatbots, AI, NLP, DP, ML written 100% in Spanish by more than 100 collaborators from Spain and Latam.
She got her start in the startup world as editor of an automotive news portal before she finished her studies. After this more than enriching experience she started in the Department of Communication and Social Networks of a mobile application also related to mobility in large cities.
She’s passionate about technology, sustainable mobility and sports. She combines her work on Planeta Chatbot with publications on other blogs on mobility and technology applied to the world.
The audio (apologies for the bad connection and background noise) of our chat is in Spanish, so I translated and transcribed to English below:
Talk to me about Planeta Chatbot, what’s the origin and when did it start?
Planeta Chatbot is the first webmagazine written %100 in spanish focused on AI, machine learning and chatbots. It’s all about sharing content, experiences and perspective with the larger hispanic community to help develop a thriving industry and just like in China and other countries.
We started at the end of May and beginning on June, and we’re very happy with the progress we’ve made in the last 4 months; traffic has increased every month!
How was your event last week?
On top maintaining a webmagazine we also do events, such as last week in Madrid. We had people come from all corners of Spain, the speakers did a great job talking about AI and machine learning; the experience was great for everyone involved.
We’ll do another event at the end of October.
From your point of view, are chatbots a fad or the future?
Without a doubt it’s one of the questions that gets asked the most by people around this new industry. I think it won’t be a fad, because at the beginning when apps started it was considered crazy to download a mobile app by typing a name in an app marketplace to search for it.
Now we’re used to using various apps for different objectives on a daily basis.
Chatbots are a new tool, platform and channel. It’s very important because companies like Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and others are very interested in making virtual assistants and bots work. Chatbots are optimized for customer service, giving people information is a much more natural way instead of them having to type in a search engine.
One of the biggest challenges in user experience is managing expectations with the user as to what the bot can and can’t do, be very clear in the responses that are given.
From Planeta Chatbot’s point of view, why did you decide to create a chatbots content portal?
The majority of the content that exists on the web is written in english. So anyone who’s interested in developing or implementing chatbots end up reading content written in english.
Being aware of this we saw an opportunity to create a portal in spanish, we begun writing ourselves about the pros and cons of the different platforms that exist, and little by little we started inviting other writers and collaborators to share their knowledge; right now we have over 100 contributors from all over the world.
We’ve very happy with the progress we’ve made and hopefully Planeta Chatbots will help the industry grow in hispanic countries.
What is the status of Chatbots in Spain / Europe? What trends have you observed?
In Spain we’ve entered the industry a little late, but we’re making progress as companies are starting to ask questions and show interest in chatbots.
From the interviews and research we’ve done, the sector that’s adopted chatbots the most is tourism; it’s growing. I think the tourism sector has adopted chatbots because of how it enhances the customer experience for travelers like when we’re looking to spend a few days relaxing; the tourism sector is focused on over delivering so customers are more than satisfied with their experience.
It’s important to note that this sector sees chatbots as another channel to their existing business model; not as a threat that will change it.
Why should companies embrace chatbots? In what way do they deliver value to the users / customers?
It’s another platform and channel to have a relationship with customers and users. One that is just starting and where they should focus on because you have to be where your customers are; companies need to experiment and be present.
Keeping up with technology is necessary to exist tomorrow. Innovation isn’t just about creating new products but also about being aware of what’s going on around you. As I said before, companies can use chatbots for customer service, to enhance the user experience, improve sales by automating lead capture.
Companies have to start experimenting with this technology to see what outcomes they can enhance and what users they attract.
The chatbot industry is young and fragmented. This means it’s hard for companies to make sense of it and how to start. What do you advise companies to do with regards to opting to do it themselves versus partnering with an agency to help them develop and implement a chatbot?
In this context it’s impossible to not be ambiguous. It really depends on the resources they have available, because it’s not the same to talk about a big company with many resources that can invest in doing it themselves versus a small one.
What’s interesting is there are many ways a business can go about developing and implementing a chatbot, but they have to do their homework and make a decision between having full control versus subcontracting or partnering with someone.
What chatbot applications have you seen lately that caught your attention?
There’s a chatbot from Brazil that focuses on alcoholism. The reason it’s surprising is because one the main points of contention against chatbots is whether or not they’ll be good at having a real conversation with users, and this bot does a good job helping teenagers overcome their drinking problem.
I’m also interested in chatbots that use AI to recognize photos. For example, the Sephora chatbot enhances the user experience for people who are curious about how a certain cosmetic might look on them before going to the store to purchase it.
In your daily life, do you use chatbots to achieve your objectives?
Yes, one of the main newspapers here in Spain sends you up to the hour news. I use it a lot to stay on top of national news; this is the one I use the most.
I use public transportation to move around, so I use a chatbot that warns you of the incidents that are occurring. For example, it warns you when a metro line isn’t working or is closed, or when a bus is full or running late. It’s very useful for people who use public transportation because it eliminates a lot of frustration; it’s only been active for over a month and only exists in Madrid.
What features does a functional bot have?
The first thing is the chatbot has to make its purpose clear to the user; what it does. Second, structure the dialogue and the options it offers in a very clear way, have a very robust decision tree.
It’s important to decide from the beginning whether you will give the user options or use natural language processing to detect specific words the user uses. Also important is to keep learning from the mistakes that are made and keep improving the bot, and that the bot keeps learning.
The one bot that has impressed me with how they’ve implemented NLP is Destinia, for people who are traveling. The interaction is very smooth and natural when typing what you want. AI will play a big part in how we interact with bots. For example with Destinia, the bot shouldn’t offer you more options to buy if a user wants to make a cancellation; it needs to understand context to not frustrate the user.
Looking at the market from a product perspective, when everyone has access to the same language processing packages and different platforms, in what ways can bot makers differentiate themselves?
Let’s differentiate bot-makers between development agencies and SaaS platform providers. If you want to make a simple bot that doesn’t need a lot of integration, for example something that sends you news articles, then you can use a SaaS platform provider.
For a more complex bot that integrates with your back office and business systems then you need to reach out to a development agency. Again, it really depends on what the company is looking for.
Listen to our chat below (in Spanish):
The Big Bang is a weekly podcast. Tune in every Tuesday for more discussions on what’s possible.
Intro audio is by Arturo Arriaga, outro audio is Candyland by Guy J.
Also published on Medium.