Paola Colombo, SVP Managing Director, R/GA San Francisco on creating a little AI helper
These days, our expectations of how we think businesses should interact with us are higher than ever. We expect 24/7 responsiveness, across all social media platforms – and we expect a personal type. Most businesses don’t have the bandwidth to respond to every query at all times – that’s why chatbots are increasingly popular. But they can be pretty confusing, particularly for small businesses that don’t have the technological expertise to build their own. That’s why R/GA San Francisco built BotBot, a fairly meta chatbot who helps people build their very own chatbot. LBB caught up with Paola Colombo ahead of her talk at Production Social in London next week.
LBB> What kicked off the desire to create BotBot?
PC> The R/GA Ventures programs help start-ups find and define business opportunities to grow. Reply.ai is a company part of our Commerce Accelerator in San Francisco. They had built an incredible chatbot platform that simplified making bots. They were getting high demand from companies of all sizes to create all kinds of bots, but they could not scale as they still needed a lot of manpower to make these bots. So we came up with the idea of a bot that could automate the production of the most common cases to help them scale.
LBB> How did you determine which would be the most in-demand chatbot types?
PC> Having a bot that could easily automate others, we started to wonder if we could make this accessible to smaller businesses that don’t usually have the funding or manpower to invest in new technologies. We looked at the number of small business with a Facebook page and saw it could be a tremendous opportunity - our rough estimate put it at over 50 million businesses. Then we looked at the potential value that a chatbot could bring to both these business and to their consumers. We selected the services that could help businesses either sell more or reduce costs. For customers, we looked at convenience and frequency of usage. Food Bot, for instance, makes it easier for customers to order food, something that many of them do every week.
LBB> I can imagine that creating a chatbot to build chatbots is a fairly… mind-bending process! Where on earth did you start with it? And what were the most challenging things to puzzle out?
PC> Building chatbots well is pretty complex. Luckily Reply.ai has a brilliant platform that makes it much easier. So we built BotBot on top of their platform. The harder part was integrating the bots with other software service providers that don’t have APIs available. For the Fitness Bot, we connect with Mindbody to provide scheduling tools for gyms and fitness studios. That integration is key because it makes the bots way more convenient both for business owners and consumers.
LBB> For people who are curious about BotBot but a bit nervous, what do they need to get started?
PC> All they need is a phone and a Facebook page, and Botbot takes care of the rest.
LBB> What sort of reactions have you had from people who have used BotBot?
PC> The first reaction is realizing how simple it is. The next reaction is: “now that I have a chatbot, what should I do with it”. There are many ways you can promote your bot using Facebook ads. We could potentially make our bots help businesses with that part too, as well as give them usage statistics, like sending them messages about their sales, what products or services are leading, what types of questions they are getting. The bots could become the ultimate tool for small businesses, but that’s down the line.
LBB> Chatbots are certainly growing in their prevalence – do you think we will reach the stage when chatbot tech will be a prerequisite for any business?
PC> I believe consumers are getting used to “assisted experiences” that use chat or voice commands, and companies will have to catch up. Smart connected products will use data to anticipate needs and deliver just what you want, even before you ask. We’ll be designing experiences that are more user-centric instead of device-centric.
LBB> When it comes to the tone of voice side of things, how important is it really that a bot feels/comes across as human?
PC> It’s pretty frustrating when you chat with “someone” and then realize it's a bot. So, bots should never pretend, they should be honest about being a bot, and careful not to overpromise what they can do. They should also be smart enough to lead you to a human when they can’t figure out what you want. They should take in consideration the context you are in. For BotBot, we wanted business owners, with no tech background, to feel comfortable and build it from their phones. We wanted it to sound like a smart friend seated next to you, helping you build something that can help your business grow. And that’s been pretty awesome.
Production Social will take place on Tuesday October 3rd. For more info head here.