Microsoft / Computerised Conversation
This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our intelligence tool featuring the most creative and effective ideas in marketing from around the world
Tech giant builds virtual bots that can chat with customers on Skype
Microsoft has made public its plans to make conversation the next user interface. At the centre of the ‘Conversation as Platform’ vision are AI-powered bots that can chat to customers using natural language processing.
One project coming out of Microsoft’s new UI direction is an integration with Skype called Skype Bots. Users can chat directly with Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual personal assistant, through Skype to book a trip, plan their schedule and go shopping.
Cortana doesn’t complete every process herself within the Skype app, instead she brings the appropriate chat bot into the conversation – and then removes them once the transaction is completed.
In a demonstration of the new technology at Microsoft’s Build conference in San Francisco this week, Skype’s programme manager Lilian Rincon showed how the system would work if you wanted to arrange a holiday. First Cortana transferred her to a Westin hotel bot to book a room, and then reminded her of a friend who lived in that area – suggesting she visit while she was there.
At the moment the Skype Bots work through written messages only, but the company says they will be accessible through audio and video calling further down the line.
Along with its virtual chat bots, Skype is also introducing Skype Video Bots, which – according to a company press release, are aimed at ‘bringing useful and fun interactions into your video calling experiences.’
The promotional video (below) suggests these video bots will take many forms, from fictional characters that can interact with children to virtual versions of yourself that can try clothes on for you while you shop online. While the Skype Bots are entirely text based, the Video Bots create a virtual environment.
Brands and businesses will be able to create their own Video Bots through Skype’s Development Platform, which will seamlessly integrate into Skype users' chats.
Contagious Insight /
Customer communications / As we reported in our AI customer service trend, IT research firm Gartner estimates that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationships with businesses without any human interaction. But regardless of whether we’ll get human interaction, we’ll still want it. NICE Systems’ Global Customer Experience Survey found that 88% of people would pick speaking to a representative on the phone as their first choice. So, where does that leave us? Robots with the power to converse like humans.
‘Human language is the new UI [user interface] layer,’ Microsoft’s chief executive Satya Nadella said at the Build conference, according to the Financial Times. ‘Bots are the new apps. Digital assistants are like … the new browsers, and intelligence is infused into all your interactions.’ These humanised bots will provide brands with a way to communicate with their customers in a more authentic and natural way.
Business Insider data indicates that messaging apps have surpassed social networks in popularity, with the top four messaging apps have about half a billion more regular users than the top four social media sites. So using direct messaging programmes like Whatsapp and Skype as a platform for these humanised bots is a sensible choice – and Cortana’s integration into Skype will not be the last example you’ll see.
In January, Whatsapp announced it would be trialling ‘tools that allow you to use WhatsApp to communicate with businesses and organisations that you want to hear from.’ And Facebook launched Businesses on Messenger last year. ‘The net result is that you and I will be talking to brands and companies over Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, and elsewhere before year’s end, and will find it normal,’ wrote Chris Messina, Uber’s Developer Experience Lead in a medium post earlier this year. And he might just be right.
This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our intelligence tool featuring the most creative and effective ideas in marketing from around the world. I/O helps anyone in the world of marketing understand why brands are innovating, how they're doing it and with what success.