Here come the chat-bots
For some startups, apps are making way for chat-bots, which engage in ‘conversations’ with customers. But their success hinges on popular messenger services, reports
After she bought her Android phone, Indu Rajagopal, who works at a construction company in Chennai, downloaded about 25-30 apps to add to those that were pre-installed. Eventually, though, she lost interest in the apps and stopped using them and soon, most of them were uninstalled.
As mobile screen real estate gets cluttered, some startups are deviating from the app way and piggybacking on popular messenger services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger that have huge user bases and are developing ‘chat-bots’ on them to provide services to customers. Chat-bots are computer programmes that use artificial intelligence to ‘converse’ with people using text messages – they answer queries, track consumer preferences and grow ‘wiser’ over time. Users don’t need to download an app – they can simply add the startup-contact number to their phonebook or messenger lists and ping them for services, which the bots will attend to. “Apps take up mobile spaceaswellaslosemind recall quickly amongst consumers. Bots have the potential to create new branding channels for existing companies without the use of an app,” said Aarti Gill, cofounder of fitness startup FitCircle. The startup uses a mix of experts and chat-bots to give users personalised advice on health has completed over 20,0 0 0 consultations since its launch in November. “When welaunchedthe WhatsApp bot, we got around 8,000 requests in a single day,” she said. However, WhatsApp later blocked the number because it doesn’t support chat-bots. The startup has bots on other platforms such as TeamChat andSlackandisawaiting approval to get on to Facebook Messenger.
Gill said bots could be the best way to connect with a multitude of consumers instantaneously. She points to the case of Duta.in, a USheadquartered startup with its India office in Chennai that uses bots via messaging services to provide content services – mainly news, religion and sports – and acquired a few million users within eight months of launch in April last year.
“Social platforms are places where people spend time. So this way, you are where people are,” said Anand Ranganathan, founder of Duta.
He notes that in India, data plans are used mostly fortextmessengers.“Manypeoplearebandwidthstarved and a full-blown app is way too much data for them. They might need other services, too, but do not have access to them due to bandwidth constraints. We are providing that access through the platforms they already use,” he said. Duta currently provides its services through WhatsApp, Facebook and Telegram.
However, startups using WhatsApp face severe operational limitations as the message service hasn’t approved of chat-bots yet. The numbers provided by startups keep getting blocked and are changed, sometimes as frequently as every three hours, resulting in unpleasant user experiences.
Such limitations led Niki.ai, a personal assistant app, to develop bots on its own app to provide users multiple services. “Currently we have bots on our own mobile app and that was primarily because most of these services were not open to having a chat-bot. But now with Facebook’s move to open up its Messenger to it, we would certainly like to integrate our chat-bot with the Messenger app,” said Sachin Jaiswal, cofounder of the startup, which has acquired about 30,000 users since its launch in November 2015. Startup contacts can be added to users’ phonebook/messenger lists. Users can ping for multiple services Uses a mix of experts and chat-bots to give users personalised advice on health
Use chat bots to provide interactive services and content on sports, finance, entertainment
Personal assistant app that chats with users to provide them multiple services like cab booking and bill payment