Chatbots are in the midst of a reset. I’ve been bullish on their potential in the past, but Facebook Messenger bots are failing 70% of the time when it comes to following through on user requests. That’s not good, even though bots have seen a meteoric rise on the platform, hitting more than 30,000 bots available on Messenger alone in September of last year. But with bots not working and not delivering, why bother with them at all for both brands who have invested in creating them and users who have been frustrated in using them?
The promise of bots is impressive. They have the potential to add speed and scale to personal communication without human intervention. Bots get in on customer service support. They answer questions, build relationships and provide a level of utility and immediacy that humans just can’t, at least not at the same scale.
The idea was greater than the technology, and until the technology catches up, Facebook has introduced a menu-based system for chat bots. Now, bots in Messenger will have a limited set of menu options. Users can choose from a finite set of ways to interact with the bot.
The Upside. The Downside.
This update is good in the sense that it will improve overall bot performance and probably give users more fruitful interactions than they were getting before, potentially bringing trust back to the feature for users who haven’t abandoned bots altogether. This comes with the downside that removing the natural language interactions means less learning on the developer side of things that could improve A.I. It’s a short-term gain with a long-term loss.
Why Does This Even Matter?
A lot of brands don’t have Messenger bots, and for the vast majority, the technology just doesn’t make sense. That may not always be the case, though.
Messaging is rapidly becoming one of, if not the, dominant ways people interact online. Messaging is the future. Social networks are where we’re at today, but more users are spending more time in messaging apps than ever before. And in those closed ecosystems bots are potentially one of the most efficient ways to interact with users in that environment. Messaging shifts communication to a one-to-one interaction. In an ideal world, all of that interaction would be between humans, but in reality, that’s just not possible.
Successful brand communication through messaging applications does not hinge on bots, but they could certainly play a part. That’s why watching what happens with Facebook’s recent changes matters more for the future than it does for the present.