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The World Has Gone 'Chatbot' Crazy. What’s In It For B2B

In the past few weeks the world has gone ‘Chatbot’ crazy with announcements of new ‘Chatbot Shops’ and Connectors on a near daily basis. What started with Facebook’s announcements of its Messenger Bot Store, has already been in the works for quite some time, see Google for instance. Apple and Amazon too are working on their own iterations of intelligent bots. And so is Microsoft with Cortana and Tay (well, let’s maybe not talk about the latter).

What are Chatbots? A crash course

Chatbots are a computerized response to something said or requested in a messaging channel or the like. The idea is to create a seamless experience for users, who can access services and information directly via a messaging app by chatting with a "bot" without ever having to leave the application. Messaging platforms hence become the ‘central place of working’ by intelligently connecting all relevant systems to it, via chatbots/connectors.

B2C & C2B Bots – the obvious Use Case

Integrating chatbots with consumer messaging platforms sounds like a dream come true for Business-to-Consumer firms and end users alike. After all, by 2018, the number of chat app users worldwide will reach 2 billion and represent 80% of smartphone users. (EMarketer Report)

The posterchild, Facebook, has over 900 million users. Now you, Mr Consumer, can check out your friends holiday snaps on Facebook while at the same time paying your utility bill (Bank of America to connect with customers via Facebook Messenger). Or you can tag your friends whilst sorting out dinner with Burger King and check yourself into the local coffee shop whilst ordering some last minute flowers for your wife’s anniversary via 1-800-Flowers – all without ever leaving the messenger app.

If you are a business, interaction with your potential customers has just gotten truly ‘real-time’, opening up yet another channel to generate sales. A potentially highly lucrative affair. (Well, except if you are banking on AppStores. Apple for instance generates $50b annually via its AppStore which may well be at risk of being replaced by chatbots in the future. Why install dozens of apps, placing strain on always scarce phone storage, when you can do it all via chatbots within your messaging tool of choice, in one single place.)

B2B Chatbots

The current buzz mainly focuses on the big brands and household consumer names who were all quick to announce integrations with popular messaging platforms.

Yet, bots have been used in a business to business context for years - especially within Financial Services. The use cases are equally as impressive and powerful as their consumer counterparts, enabling firms to build competitive advantage based on faster access to data, more informed decision making and better processes.

Here are some of the advantages that can be achieved by using chatbots within an enterprise messaging platform (which already connects your employees):

  • Combining people knowledge with system data for a 360 view on subjects and projects
  • Access to contextual data within chat channels, allowing for more informed decision making
  • Time savings and cut back on disruptions due to ‘log on/log off’ into separate systems
  • Less margin for error due to switching systems and migrating data between them manually
  • More agility & responsiveness by bringing data sources together

In short, Chatbots in a B2B environment are about streamlining business processes. The amount of systems and apps in use today is staggering – a Netskope survey found that 579 apps on average were in use per organization in the past quarter. The time and information lost whilst switching back and forth is equally mind-numbing.

Chatbots, on the other hand, allow firms to transform their corporate messaging platforms into the central place of working, by connecting it to other internal or external systems and giving employees access to system data straight within the chat channels. Companies can embed messaging rooms via connectors within SharePoint portals, build bots to receive the latest Social Media and RSS feeds, monitor competitors within messaging rooms, or connect CRM systems to get customer alerts and data right within dedicated channels. ERP systems, Jira, Zendesk, document management, operational monitoring, developer tools … the list of system connections is endless.

An example for the trading community: One financial firm uses a chatbot that monitors data from a third party trading application supplying prices to clients. Requests (via their messaging platform) for a better automated price can be processed and, depending on the client rating, trade size and market activity from other feeds, intelligently alert the sales desk warning of pending market flow before trades are executed, all real-time, all within the chat system.

Let’s bring it home: Chatbots are here to stay! Not technically a new development, the ‘hype’ created around this new concept of interconnected systems and tools will create new ways for consumers to interact with brands and vice versa, but it will also allow firms to work smarter and make sense of the jungle of apps that has flooded their workspaces and put such a large strain on IT departments and infrastructure alike.

The Future seems to say: ‘AppStores adieu’, ‘Hello Chatbot Shops’ for B2C and B2B alike.

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