LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS AMERICAS 2017: By 2018, all brands will have bots in beta and the time to start investing in a chatbot strategy is now, according to Lauren Kunze, CEO and co-founder of Pandorabots.

Speaking in the last day’s keynote, she demonstrated a bot called Mitsuku on stage, having a conversation with it on her smartphone, as well as in the form of an augmented reality hologram standing next to her (though this seemed to make the bot unresponsive).

Kunze said Mitsuku is widely recognised as the world’s best conversational chatbot, winning the Loebner Prize for most human-like AI in 2013 and 2016.

While bots in the future will likely look like that, at the moment they take the form of text-based bots on platforms like Facebook Messenger and Kik, and voice-based ones on Amazon Echo.

Kunze said the current iterations often yield a frustrating user experience because Natural Language Understand is eluding bot creators – “it is a fundamental human characteristic that we ourselves don’t understand”.

However, there are some successful examples of bots that are out there right now.

Brand examples
American Eagle Outfitters created a bot called Aerie and found that 75 per cent of bot users were new to the brand. Plus, there was a 25 per cent click through rate with Messenger, “a staggering figure” and 3 million messages were exchanged via the bot. This conversational data was used for bot development as well as remarketing.

Kunze explained that bots may not always work for customer service, for instance if a customer is already angry. However, it can work as a “proactive channel” like in the case of Yamato, a delivery service company in Japan.

Yamato has a bot for Line, a popular messaging app in Japan, through which users can track packages and change delivery dates and locations, resulting in massive savings for the company. Line’s CEO apparently said it was the best bot on their platform.

Coca Cola
The most recent example is Coca Cola’s bot for Messenger which links to vending machines, “bridging the online world with the offline, retail world,” Kunze said.

Users can buy Cokes for their Facebook friends via Messenger, and the experience is gamified to increase “loyalty and delight”.

The most valuable result for Coca Cola, though, is the data it is able to collect about user purchasing habits, something it was unable to do before and which is “worth its weight in gold”.

It can now send relevant deals to users based on what drinks they like, at the right time and the right place (if users opt-in for location sharing).

The whole process was much faster, cheaper and has less friction than building an app, said Kunze.

In fact, Kunze said retailers need not waste their time creating apps, because on average users are now downloading zero new apps, instead spending time in apps they already have, mainly Facebook and Google.

In the case of the younger demographic, it’s social and messaging, and that’s where brands need to be.

For instance, in China WeChat is the primary interface for users in almost all that they do with their smartphone – they use it to not just chat but book doctor appointments, pay bills and talk to businesses.

“The US is headed in that direction with WhatsApp and Facebook,” Kunze predicted.