In the meantime, let’s examine some of the economic impacts we are already beginning to experience from the rise of bots.
One important development was just announced last week: Microsoft’s Bing Places is now rolling out bots, free of charge, for restaurants in 13 countries, including the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia.
Bing searchers viewing results for a participating restaurant will now see an additional button labeled “Chat,” through which they can ask basic questions covering hours, outdoor seating, contact information, dietary restrictions, parking and more; if the bot can’t answer, it refers users to the restaurant’s phone number.
Setting up a bot is no more difficult than setting up detailed directory listing. The restaurant merely needs to answer structured questions, and Bing creates the bot, using data sourced both from the responses and Bing Places, then publishes it on multiple platforms. In addition to Bing, these currently include Skype and SMS, with Facebook Messenger and Cortana to be added shortly.
Transactions are reportedly soon going to be conducted within the Bing results page as well. Not to be left behind, Google will likely be upgrading its message extensions for AdWords, which currently allow users to text-message advertisers. The result of all of this will be that tens of thousands of small businesses will soon be able to access bot technology cheaply and easily, beginning now with restaurants, greatly reducing staff time required to field inbound queries.
Bots offer more than just time savings. They are disrupting the sales process, allowing users to trade data for more control, just as social media continues to amass an enormous wealth of data as it gives users more leverage in creating reputation. Bots now provide a new ability to obtain and manage sales information while enabling businesses to target prospects more precisely than ever.
Since the sales qualification is mutual and occurs in the user’s chat application as opposed to the seller’s online properties, the user’s interest level cannot be assumed. This means that much of traditional sales copy will be replaced with natural language sequencing that creates a sense of intimacy and empowers the user through frequent permission checks.
Bots also create a new, smart channel for distributing value, meaning that companies employing bots will grow faster because they will more quickly be associated with value creation and, in fact, deemed more valuable by customers, prospects, investors and influencers.
Lead generation expert Scott Oldford of Infinitus credits bots with being
…able to generate not just leads, but to ensure that they’re qualified so that…on a phone call or …webinar or…sales page, you have the right person looking at the right thing at the right time. This really goes back to ensuring that we don’t treat all leads the same, because they aren’t equal. Remember your amount of income…actually has very little to do with the value you create, but rather the value you distribute.1
With bots speeding both information exchange and transactions, and more than 6000 machine intelligence companies and growing as of April 2016, we should expect a much faster, more productive economy. But the jury is still out as to whether this will ultimately be a good thing. Malicious bots are being rapidly deployed by bad actors, but the main impact might be on the economy. Oxford University researchers concluded that nearly half of US jobs are susceptible to computerization. The displacement in the global economy will be at a level we have never seen, and will be difficult to keep up with. Can we adapt quickly enough?
1 Oldford, Scott, Bots for Business Training Program, Bots for Business, May, 2017.