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Apr 11, 2016 | 5 min read


Bots are eating the Web

Kirène Meralli

Lead Project Analyst

Tomorrow, Mark Zuckerberg will cut the ribbon on the “Messenger Bot Store”, officially opening the Messenger platform to bot developers. An announcement as important as the launch of the App Store by Steve Jobs back in 2008.

A few hours from the launch of the F8 conference, developers and designers are very eager to finally see the platform arrive on the market, and if they aren’t already, so will be the brands. Because Facebook is about to open a new era of online services and customer relationships.

At FABERNOVEL INNOVATE, we will be posted right behind our screens; and while waiting for F8 to open, we want to start decoding the bot revolution.

Robots or Bots?

The rise of virtual assistants is nothing new: we have waited for and dreamed about it for a long time. The launches of Siri and Google Now marked the onset of a new ambition: to offer to every user her assistant, just like the Jarvis / Iron Man relationship. Except that several clues let us think that Jarvis will not speak, but chat instead.

For the question today isn’t about whether robots are coming or not. They’ve already started to invade our digital world at a crazy speed. The question is rather to know the shape they will adopt. If we pictured humanoid robots borrowing our physical attributes and the way we move, well surprise! Robots are in fact invisible, shapeless, but put on our sensibility, our empathy and our capacity to have conversations.

We call them robots, chatbots, virtual assistants, invisible apps. Their name and their shape change but the principle remains the same. These virtual assistants can live within the messaging platforms such as Messenger, Slack, Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat or simply by SMS like the French player Jam and start talking with the users.

Bots at the heart of the conversation

We shall never claim it enough, at FABERNOVEL we’re convinced that we enter an era of services more and more conversational. Curiously, the digital revolution, through its multiple phases (web, mobile, social networks, IOT, bots…), brings us back to the very essence of commerce and customer relationship: the ability to have a conversation, in a very simple way.

Several revealing elements of the increasing use of messaging in 2015 support our point of view:

– The increasing number of active users on messaging applications: in 2015, Facebook Messenger counted 800 million, the Chinese platform WeChat counted about 600 million and WhatsApp now counts 1 billion.

– The multiplication of use cases of conversations between brands and customers on these platforms: since last year, a few brands have answered customers via Facebook Messenger (the Dutch airline KLM is committed to answering all the requests within one hour, 24/ 7, in more than 14 languages).

– The larger success of messaging applications: the time spent on these apps in 2015 exceeded the time spent on “classic” apps. The success of the professional messaging platform Slack, launched in 2014 and now valued at $3.8bn, epitomizes this trend. The proliferation of concierge services such as Magic in the US or Clac des doigts in France is also a great illustration.

Whether they stem for AI or in the hands of human operators, the Bots have the new ability to be integrated at the heart of platforms of messaging, and to propose personalized services there.

Brands will join the conversation

The development of those bots marks above all the arrival of brands in our conversations. And more widely in our everyday life. Contact points with them will grow from punctual interactions to continuous, and increasingly natural, relationships.

The opening of Facebook’s Bot Store gives every brand the opportunity to create its chatbot, able to interact with customers or prospects that requesting a conversation. We will then chat with our friends, our family, Uber or our bank at the same time – without leaving the Messenger app.

For the brands, it augurs an incredible opportunity to manage in a more industrialized way the communication with the users while preserving the intimacy and the natural tone of a conversation by adding the power of digital technologies: the hyper-availability and the instantaneity in order to answer to operational issues and increase customer satisfaction.

For the user, it means the promise of more simplicity: no additional downloads, fewer interfaces, and the possibility of realizing transactions as simply as writing to her contacts.

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A strongly B2C use – and a B2B impact too  

In the era of blurry boundaries between personal and professional uses, it is more likely that the B2C uses will quickly be adopted by B2B services. Finding a common time slot for a meeting, following in real time a delivery during of paramount importance as part of a new product launch or placing an order to replenish coffee reserves, numerous mundane tasks will be simplified.

Renewed platform tectonic

In 2008, Steve Jobs made a fundamental announcement by opening the iPhone to third-party publishers: this move enabled brands to fit their users’ pocket, and for users to craft their very own mobile experience. An important date, that kickstarted the growth of a vast ecosystem of new talents (developers, mobile designers), the creation of new business models (e.g. in-app purchases), of new businesses at the heart of companies and of new agencies to accompany them.

The GAFA’s race for mobile power looked won by Apple and Google, sharing the OS market – and imposing their rules to the publishers of services and content.

The opening of Facebook’s Bot Store offers a brand-new perspective – and an ambitious one at that. Apps are no more the only way to distribute mobile services, and Facebook speeds up to take a head start in the in the Messaging-as-a-Platform revolution.

What can we expect? Once again the birth of an ecosystem: engineers trained in AI programming, the emergence of new use cases, and the creation of new business models.

For if the interests and the stakes related to the brands will quickly take shape along the uses, the messaging platforms’ business models are yet to be defined. We can already imagine several combinations:

  • A marketplace model: a commission taken by messaging plaforms on the purchase of chatbots or in-chat purchases (additional services available through the chatbot)
  • An API subscription model for brands willing to create their chatbots: monthly payment to a messaging platform to have access to its APIs
  • An advertising model: revenue generated by ads – with the caveat of diluting the intimate, casual aspect of chat

We can also imagine additional indirect formulas less, such as chatbot sponsoring by the “hosting platform” (e.g. “@Messenger help me to find a flight”, “I suggest you @AirFrance, @Easyjet…”) with a solution pushed as SEA.

Similar to the success of the GAFA, the winning messaging apps will certainly be the ones with the largest communities to monetize. But not only. They will also be the ones that will allow brands and users to chat in a reliable and secure universe, and that will know how to train and scale their artificial intelligences. At this game, everybody is still a novice.

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