Remember the Magic 8 Ball? Ask a question, shake it, and get an immediate answer… sometimes declarative and sometimes ambiguous.  Well I bet you didn’t realize that you were asking questions to an immature and substantially less technical version of today’s chatbot.

Fast forward to 2016. The growth in chatbots we have seen in this decade can be attributed to the introduction and usage of personal assistants and voice search on mobile devices (e.g. Siri, Alexa, Google Now) as well as the hyper growth of messaging apps which have recently surpassed social networking apps in monthly users.

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Chatbots are most often found in popular messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and Viber, where they encourage and automate one-on-one conversations between users and corporate brands. You can also interact with some chatbots directly via SMS text, like the Insomnobot-3000 by the Casper sleep company. This is a great example of an ingenious and fun way for a brand to create awareness and engagement by connecting to a common occurrence which is indirectly, but topically related to its products.

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Productivity chatbots, like Statsbot and GrowthBot on team messaging apps like Slack, can be used by marketers and business leaders to query analytics instead of manually accessing data visualization dashboards or spreadsheets. Other companies use chatbots for employees to efficiently ask organizational and HR related questions without having to navigate through a cumbersome company intranet. These are examples of the numerous benefits of chatbots, which also include taking the onus from humans by automating customer service conversations, social responses, content scheduling, and data tracking on users.

A commonly used term to describe both messaging apps and chatbots is “frictionless”. More brands are incorporating chatbots into their digital marketing and communication channels because it’s easier for a brand to go where users already congregate, instead of climbing uphill to convince users to download their mobile app and use it on a regular basis. It’s a classic case of going to your consumers rather than waiting for them to come to you. Furthermore, brands can leverage chatbots to be accessible and respond to inquiries 24×7 in our digital world of lofty consumer expectations and instant gratification.

If you’re interested in developing a chatbot for your brand, you’ll not only need a clear understanding of how it will enhance the customer experience but you’ll also need technical resources. An effective chatbot is dependent on its level of artificial intelligence in the form of natural language processing and predictive analytics for user intent and possibly requires integration with your company’s technical architecture and systems, such as CRM and Customer Service. Depending on the desired level of sophistication of your chatbot, you’ll likely need to utilize a combination of internal technical staff and outside development resources.