Talking Chatbots

This Just In

Will 2017 go down as the year event organisers in Europe joined the stampede with other industries to employ chatbots to provide an array of customer-interaction services? There are certainly signs that experimentation with chatbots at meetings and events has begun. Anyone who attended IMEX in Frankfurt this year may well have interacted with Frank, the show’s newest recruit, who also happens to be a chatbot.

A chatbot is Artificial Intelligence that runs on your smartphone or PC and helps make everyday tasks easier. Chatbots offer brands the opportunity to provide 24-hour service and the ability to interact with thousands of humans at any moment. But these just scratch the surface of its potential.

Kemal El Moujahid, a lead product manager for the Messenger team at Facebook, writes on TechCrunch that bots may not replace all of human-based support, but they can deal with frequently asked questions “in the fastest [and] most efficient way, keeping human time for more high-touch inquiries.” For example, he writes, bots “could be searching for hours for the best travel option, freeing you to do something else, and notifying you when they’re done. They could be set up to alert you on price drops for that beautiful bag you’ve expressed interest in, or to send you personalized content on your favourite artist. They could run in the background on your bank account, helping you save money automatically.”

In the hospitality sector, Marriott International’s chatbot allows its rewards members to research and book travel in more than 4,700 hotels. Chatbots help members plan upcoming trips with suggestions by connecting to Marriott’s digital magazine Marriott Traveler.

Events have numerous requirements that could be accomplished by a chatbot, such as delegate registration, booking venues and transportation, reserving exhibition stands, organising presentation materials, and answering simple requests for information about about the WiFi password, times particular sessions start, and where the food is being served. Imagine the cost savings and efficiency.

At IMEX in Frankfurt, Frank ensured delegates’ questions were addressed 24/7, supporting service teams at the busiest times and enabling resources to be used elsewhere. Frank was part of 3,600 messages and helped 780 users, largely via IMEX’s website.

“We have seen a significant increase in the number of EU companies employing chatbots for meetings and events,” said Chuck Elias, CEO of Sciensio, the chatbot development company behind IMEX’s Frank. “In our experience, well-designed chatbots increase user engagement. Clients are seeing 70 per cent–plus engagement levels and over 90 per cent of user questions are answered by the bot on the first try.”

The questions that Frank was unable to answer were the more complex and sensitive ones. And while it sounds like Frank’s trial was a success at IMEX Frankfurt, he wasn’t a feature at IMEX America in October.

Going forward, could a chatbot pose as a CEO, speaker, or other expert? IMEX’s experiences suggest not, but British celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s Heston Bot, which is integrated with Skype, seems to claim a personality.

“Heston Bot provides users with eye-opening cooking tips, exclusive seasonal menus, and personal anecdotes directly from the master,” according to a Skype blog. “With Heston, cooking becomes a fun and immersive experience that evolves as your skills do.”

Sounds exciting. One would imagine that you could tell Heston’s Bot, “I’m in the mood for some asparagus,” and it would make suggestions of how to prepare it, with appropriate recipes. In reality, the Heston Bot merely pushes content. Ask it a question and it provides links to all the current seasonal/monthly recipes — a new way to get fresh and relevant content in front of the audience, but perhaps falling short of the hype.

As we’ve seen with IMEX’s Frank and Heston’s Bot, chatbots promise effective new ways to engage with an audience, but their capabilities are limited. They are, however, just taking off, and if they follow the path of other technologies, they will evolve to the point that they are capable of handling all kinds of customer service inquiries and much more.

Perhaps now is the time to start thinking about how you’ll use chatbots — even give them a try in a limited way. Be an early adopter, and when the tech is ready to provide great experiences, so will you.

U.K.-based Richard Jebb writes about the events industry.

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