Microsoft and Facebook have launched the “Bot Framework” and “Bot Engine” respectively, which lay the foundations for companies to use services like Skype and Messenger as rich customer-centric conversation platforms.
Apps may have been all the rage in recent years, but suddenly everyone is talking about “bots” and their potential impact on customer experiences. The technology has the ability to pro-actively converse with people, therefore presenting companies with the opportunity to offer automated but natural, human-like conversation with their customers. In the travel and air transport sectors, bots clearly carry a huge amount of potential.
The most compelling example to date in this industry is perhaps KLM’s use of Facebook Messenger to interact directly with its customers. Since last month, the carrier has offered its passengers booking and check-in confirmation, boarding pass and flight status updates via Facebook Messenger, making the information easy to find in a single place, so it is available at the airport, en route or at home. If passengers have any questions, they can quickly contact KLM’s social media service agents directly via Messenger. This service has been enabled by the creation by KLM of a bespoke bot, or chatbot, for the Messenger platform.
In recent weeks, a number of technology giants have made big announcements in this space. Facebook has launched its “Bot Engine” and Microsoft has unveiled its own “Bot Framework”, which enables developers to build and connect intelligent bots to interact with users naturally wherever they are via various channels, including SMS, Skype, Slack and other services.
Bots as an enabler for conversational interaction
While bots have existed for years, now is an exciting time for the technology because it has finally been “democratised”, according to Fred Warren, Creative Director, Connected Digital Services, Microsoft. He told FTE: “Up until now most of the work in this area, certainly around machine learning and things like that, have been very niche and specialist, and they’ve required dedicated teams to develop each individual one. With the adoption of the cloud and the capabilities that exist in the cloud, this actually starts to democratise a lot of these capabilities. More people can now start to explore and look at how these capabilities work.
“The Bot Framework makes it easier for people to deploy conversational assistance, for instance, within their business. But it’s less about the Bot Framework and actually about the Bot Framework interacting with things like Microsoft Azure, which is our cloud platform, things like our machine learning platform, things like Azure Logic Apps…it’s that connection into this wider group of services and micro services that actually makes a massive difference,” said Warren, who will address FTE Europe 2016 delegates in a joint keynote with Virgin Atlantic.