It is no accident that the first talking assistants came along as smart home technology became popular. From Star Trek to reality in a few decades, talking computers were just waiting for the right use cases to arrive, and with chatbots and virtual assistants, soon everything we own from the fridge to the oven and car will be able to talk, with a mute button for when we need some peace and quiet. 

An iconic eighties movie moment is Scotty trying to talk to a Mac, going “Hello, Computer?” to the unresponsive box in 1986’s Star Trek: The Voyage Home. If only the crew of the Enterprise had landed 30 years later, the computer would probably have been more responsive. Or more likely, a full-screen smartphone or tiny smart home device would do the talking. Something that would stagger any 20th century human who also came along for that time jump.

Smart Technology Rising

Four general technology advances have brought us to this beautiful moment. The rise of live voice recognition and the processing power to enable it, and artificial intelligence to understand what people say. Then, smart home and virtual assistants created the first use cases, allowing people to control thermostats, light bulbs or robotic vacuums without the need to touch a single screen or button.

Also, the rise of Siri and Alexa as general media playing buddies, home assistants and planning tools created expanded roles, making them a useful tool for all the family. Finally, coming along most recently, chatbot creators have realised that not everyone will be glued to a keyboard or screen, and might need to interact in new ways.

Completing the circle, the features from phones and home smart devices have moved to Windows 10 and OS X computers, so now people can carry on a conversation across devices. People might still prefer the keyboard, mouse or touchscreen, but over time as conversations become more detailed, talking to a device will be as natural for users as understand what Ctrl+Alt+Del meant for a generation of Windows users.

The Key Design Decisions

Any business looking to add talkative features to a product in the future must understand the state of this rapidly evolving market and where it will go.

Chatbots range from the simple in the form of script-based replacements for a receptionist, handling the basics of customer support, all the way up to conversational bots that use AI to discuss a wide range of subjects. The use case should help inform any design or service decisions. Cloud bot and AI services make it straightforward to incorporate a chatbot into a site or on social media, while Alexa Skills and similar features link sites or products to virtual assistants.

As chatbots add voice skills, like SnatchBot’s recent addition, it will be easier to roll out existing products in new areas and on new devices, helping spread the capabilities of the bot and helping boost engagement.

One Bot Or Many?

For now, most conversations are fractured and limited to a single request or chat. But already we see Google Home learning to improve its flexibility with “Continued Conversation” features that will soon spread to other devices and services. This will allow bots to remember previous conversations or insights from them, and make the current and future chats more relevant and save repeating information.

Businesses also need a clear plan of advancement, Alexa’s weekly list of new features presented in chatty how-to emails are a fine example of demonstrating to customers or users the new features of an AI service. Will the business add new features or create distinct bots or services for each area of operations?

Companies can build bots for internal use or create a branded bot to improve consumer recognition. Whatever the aim, the goal has to be for customer success, and any bot or AI service must be thoroughly tested to meet those needs while helping the business improve in productivity, time savings, improved satisfaction or other metrics.

Even if there are few plans to update the bot, a continued marketing campaign is needed to raise awareness and to highlight the success or achievements that the AI, bot or service has made. Data from the bot’s deployment can also be used to raise interest and build the company profile in industry- or market-focused pieces.

Whatever the plan, now is the time to be rolling out AI, chatbot and other smart services to help your customers or teams, waiting too long will see you rivals moving further ahead.