Not All Chatbots are Smart

In the summer of 2012, my mother sent me a text message saying it was urgent that I call her back. I was curious as to which existential crisis needed resolving and called her back.

“Tripty, what is a phone with Whatsapp called?”, she said. At which point I responded like anyone with a generation gap with someone asking this question would respond- “ An Iphone?”

“No, what is the phone actually called. I don’t want the expensive Iphones. “.  “ An Android?” , I said.  She continued to be very perturbed and asked  “ What is a smart phone then? Which is the smart one with whatsapp on it? “

I will not go into the whole conversation to save you the frustration that I continue to relive often with anything to do with technology and my mother, but the summary was that I explained the difference between a phone that is a phone ie, can make calls and a smart phone which has the computing power to send man to the moon. Today, when we talk about AI and chatbots, many of the questions that arise are very similar to my mothers conundrum of understanding the different between her phone and a smart phone.

What is a Chatbot? and what is a Smartbot?

A chat is a form of interaction. You have something that needs to be said. It needs to be communicated in either voice or text. This needs to then be dispatched to someone who receives this message. If we replace the word “chat” with pigeons, letter, email or whatsapp, the intent is still the same.

Thus, by this definition, the chatbot is a “bot” or a “ro-‘bot’” which allows for interactions between itself and someone other than itself.  Now I think it’s the word “bot” which creates all the confusion. From everything we ever learnt from Skynet or the Jetsons, we assume that any robot is infact an intelligent being who is capable of doing laundry and saving or destroying mankind. Based on Hollywood’s definition, the “bot” is a misnomer.

Most chatbot driven conversations today are based on suggestions or displays on the screen in a manner similar to clicking on a website. With chat screens the digital real estate has become smaller but the “science” behind it is no different that of an online form which is full of selection options and drop down menus. All the “bot” is doing is repeating these forms to you based on your conversation.

In the defence of the chatbots out there, its pretty much the same experience as speaking to a call center representative based out of Bangalore who has been trained to only work on scripts and simulate being a robot while repeating “ thank you for your patience”.

Lets talk AI in chatbots

So then what is the fuss about? The true power of chatbots come from giving a medium of interaction to artificial intelligence. For those who are already tired of reading this article, the Skynet / Jetsons bot that we are all searching for is actually an “intelligent chatbot” or an “AI driven chatbot”. This means that the interactions of the “bot” are not based on forms and predefined actions like on a website but closer to an intelligent human interaction. I will take the example from the life of Adam who is an AI driven chat bot for property management. When someone calls , texts or chats with Adam, they will do so like you would with any friend or current property manager.

“Hi Adam, Can you send me a plumber?”

Now this one simple statement is actually a very complex problem for Adam. Using natural language processing or what we call teaching our children to speak, Adam has understood that he is being greeted and also for a request for a plumber.

In a normal chatbot scenario, it would just respond with a statement “What category is your problem?” and display a set of chips with the 20 categories your operations team insisted you needed and then the additional 4 that accounts really needed for mapping reimbursables. In the case of Adam, his response in this situation is:

Hi Tripty, What do you need the plumber to do? “ 

Now instead of letting your tenant decide that a plumbing category is his choice for getting to “ leak in the cabinet” and then eventually just giving up and sending you an email, Adam, will hold the conversation like a human does by using his learning of not just language but the Real Estate domain to give context and create a ticket.

Should I be investing in a Smartbot? 

New surveys by smart consultants suggest that 80% of brands will be using bots in one form or the other by 2020. Gartner (specialists in all things tech) predict that 25% of customer service will be done by bots by then. The real estate industry is not immune to these trends and many are asking the question - what should I do?

When deciding to add a chatbot to your already expanding modes of communication, companies need to be aware of which type of bot they are investing in. It’s like saying I want to get a new phone which call make calls and texts but also browse the internet and open Angry birds but I would like a normal Nokia to do all of this, mostly because I like the price point of Nokia. It just can’t. However, if you decide to get an iPhone, it will help you achieve all this and more but that’s because you are buying a different product.

A chatbot without any intelligence is the same as creating a new age form on your website or Facebook page. If you invest in an intelligent Smartbot, you are not just adding another mode of communication but unifying all others.

"A well designed Smartbot can read emails, texts, answer calls, sit on your website and handle your social media! It can automate customer service bringing efficiencies and consistent tenant experiences."

If you are thinking, how will the chatbot trend impact my business I suggest to invest now in the technology instead of later when you have lost first mover advantage. Buy the iphone and not the Nokia, or you'll soon have another bit of tech gathering dust.

Andrew Day