The definition of a conversational interface has continuously evolved since its conception with the first chat engines. Its roots can be traced back to the pioneering chat engines, like AOL Instant Messenger, and have advanced into new chat platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Slack. The common thread with all chat platforms—even the most sophisticated—is that they all require you to transcribe your thoughts into text.
In 2014, the Amazon Echo launched. What started as a pilot experiment went on to become a sleeper hit. Echo’s initial conversations were basic and used standard responses from a single source. Today, the Echo has evolved into an intelligent piece of technology that is able to understand the user’s intent and keep the conversations relevant. Other agents at play are the virtual assistants (Siri, Cortana, and Android assistant) that are sitting on our mobile devices waiting to ask how they can be of help.
While chat engines were growing, Artificial Intelligence was advancing at a much faster pace. A plethora of AI-based products emerged on the scene, and AI-based chatbots were one of the first. The majority of chatbots are either built by third-party or individual businesses to provide an additional channel of communication to their customers or employees.
Today a conversational interface puts greater power into hands of the user by allowing them to seamlessly communicate across different channels. The logical next step for conversational interfaces is to integrate zero-click ordering, a term heavily popularized by Domino’s. (Check it out HERE) Imagine this, you have a smart speaker such as Alexa at home and you’re almost out of flour. Alexa, based on your consumption patterns, is able to detect that you’re almost out of flour and suggests that you should order flour today so that you avoid running out. It reads out the grocery list from your purchase history and allows you to confirm the quantity and brand with a simple “yes” or “no” statement. It then confirms the payment details that are linked to your Amazon account to complete the transaction. Such intelligence will likely be debuted in the near future from companies like Amazon and Google.
It might sound like a science-fiction movie, but it looks like zero-click ordering via a smart speaker will become our norm in the years to come. However, there’s more than one hurdle to jump before AI-based chatbots can be in every home; mostly related to the privacy and security aspects. So if you are a B2C business, implementing a conversational interface will not be an option, it will be an essential tool for your business.
A challenge for businesses looking to adopt conversational interfaces into UX/UI is the development. If the demand for building conversational interfaces is anything like the mobile app craze, it’s certain that lackluster interfaces will lead to unsatisfied users. Since smart speakers do not have a visual medium, which is important for apps to be successful, the UX/UI will have to be driven by AI & NLP.
Another challenging aspect of the conversational interface is the discovery of the conversational agent by the users and user’s preference to reach one common destination to make a transaction.
As a user, I am not interested in dozens of bots or configuring my details on several platforms.
So as a business, rather than developing an independent chatbot or conversational interface, it would be prudent to build skills with intents necessary for your business workflow on the Lex platform and make it available for conversation through Amazon Alexa.
So, when I speak to Alexa and say “book a taxi,” I should not care to which cab services it may reach out to me to get a ride.
Now, this may open further disruptions in the marketplace. Will Amazon, Apple Pay or Google Wallet become our payment gateway to all services that we want to consume? Forcing others to accept it also threaten the business of service aggregators themselves as we move towards voice and chat.
The important question to ask as a business isn’t if you’d need AI, but how long could you stay competitive without it.