Setting its sights on the restaurant sector first, Microsoft Bing has begun integrating chatbots into its local business search results.
Through its newly launched Business Bot program, bots will automatically be created from data in Bing Places. The business will have nothing to do technically; the only requirement is to answer a few structured questions about the establishment such as whether the building it wheelchair accessible, if it has allocated parking, whether there is outside seating, how to make reservations, etc, and accept the bot agreement terms.
Microsoft says its bot has the ability to evolve and learn over time. If it doesn’t know the answer to a question, it will reach out to the business and find the answer, and remember the information for future customers.
The below screenshot shows how the chatbot appears…
Microsoft will also make the chatbot analytics available to local businesses, so that they can see the questions that their customers are asking most often.
Businesses can connect their bot to other channels (i.e. communications apps), without any programming. Currently, Business Bots is available to connect with Bing, Skype and SMS, but Facebook Messenger and Cortana are expected to launch soon. It is also available for desktop and mobile. Transactional capabilities will also be added over time.
For small businesses particularly, the Bing bot offers a less technical way to enhance its online presence. While it’s currently only available for restaurants, Microsoft has said that it plans to extend the bot to other business sectors soon.
A recent 2016 Mobile Messaging Report by Ubisend revealed the increasing consumer demand for chatbots. Overall it found that 51% of individuals should be available 24/7, indicating that they want to be able to communicate with a restaurant, for example, outside of its opening hours. Furthermore, 45.8% of respondents said they would rather contact a business through messaging than email, showing a growing need for instantaneity, as well as personalisation. Half of respondents also said they would rather contact a business through messaging than phone.
Last year, more than 30,000 developers began their journey into the world of bots, and it’s a growing trend. According to Chatbots Magazine, several global shifts are boosting chatbot popularity, including:
- Mobile messenger domination
- App fatigue
- Support for chatbots by Facebook, Microsoft and other leaders
- Dramatic reduction in chatbot development costs
It will be interesting to see how Google responds to the announcement, although a week or so ago the search giant quietly released a new service for developers called Chatbase, which provides analytics and suggestions for how to “fix” bot experiences to make them better for users. Few details are available at present, but it is certainly something to watch, and particularly now. A source speaking to Techcrunch said that chatbots are a “dark space” for Google. “Most of the traffic [for chatbots] goes through Facebook Messenger, Slack, and other platforms. With Chatbase, Google hopes to gain knowledge about conversations brands are having with customers.”