Chatbots

What Is a Chatbot? What It’s Used for and Why It’s Important

Kazimierz Rajnerowicz · Updated

We live in the age of AI and automation. Unless you’re a caveman who’s just thawed out of a block of ice, you should know that already.

But the AI revolution is sometimes hard to observe.

For example, you need to book a rental car. One day you are talking to a customer service agent and the next day to a chatbot. And you may not even notice any difference. 

Wait, I’m talking to… a what now?

A chatbot—AI software that sends automatic messages and is able to mimic human conversation.

This article will help you understand:

  • What chatbots are and what they can do
  • The difference between a bot and a chatbot
  • How modern companies use chatbots
  • What various types of chatbots are there

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If you want to jump right in—talk to a chatbot or design one—you can also:

Now—

Let’s start by answering the burning question.

What Are Chatbots?

A chatbot is a piece of artificial intelligence (AI) software that can carry on conversations with its users. Chatbots can exchange text messages or utilise speech analysis and speech synthesis. Sometimes they are used as fully automated self-service tools and sometimes they assist real people with handling multiple conversations.

Most chatbots use natural language processing or decision trees. Advanced chatbots can recognize certain keywords or analyze intents. They use AI algorithms to find the most appropriate response. Simpler ones offer a set of predefined dialog choices that are linked with specific answers.

At a glance, it might seem that advanced solutions that use AI are better. And yet, what users value more than anything is convenience. It is always easier to click a button than to type your question. And speed is of the essence. About 59% of business owners decide to use chatbots to provide faster customer service.

Chatbots are sometimes called chatterbots, chat bots, or just bots. But not every bot is a chatbot—the same way, not every fish is a swordfish.

What are bots?

Bots are computer programs that automatically perform actions that are too repetitive for humans, require great precision, or speed. You can think of them as virtual robots. There are gaming bots that play video games, trading bots that buy and sell stocks, search engine bots that visit and analyze pages, and many more. Bots that send chat messages are called chatbots.

Chatbots, just like search engine bots, are considered “good bots”—as opposed to social media bots that write automatic comments or fake messages. Bots used in online video games to get an unfair advantage over real players are also “bad bots.” There are even Shopify bots that help you trade limited edition sneakers.

Why should we care about chatbots?

For starters, texting has become a natural way of communication. Using messaging applications is as natural as breathing.

There are over 2 billion people (!) who have WhatsApp on their phones. And Facebook Messenger users are going to hit a similar number very soon. Both of these apps offer chatbots as a feature.

You can use a chatbot for WhatsApp or Facebook to automate conversations. This may not sound like such a big deal if the only person who texts you is your mom. But if you run any kind of business, chatbots are invaluable. It is like having a 24/7 secretary who works for free!

Another huge advantage of chatbots is that users get attached to them. Conversation with a chatbot is a very personal kind of interaction. Some would go as far as to consider chatbots their friends who helped them get through the coronavirus pandemic.

Basic Types of Chatbots

Chatbots can be divided into three basic types depending on where they are used.

  • Website chatbot. You can open it in your browser and use it just like an interactive website. Sometimes they appear as a small widget. Other times they can become a separate landing page. Some chatbot editors offer both options and allow you to create a chatbot for a website or a chatbot website.
  • Messenger chatbot. Chatbots are extremely popular on social media and instant messaging platforms. They are usually more difficult to design and there are many limitations. Still, a facebook chatbot can be a great addition to a business page.
  • Voice chatbot. Millions of people use Amazon’s Alexa or Siri without thinking about them as chatbots. But that’s exactly what these virtual assistants are. They are voice chatbots equipped with artificial intelligence. While extremely helpful, some users are concerned about being spied on by the devices.

OK—

We know what types of chatbots are there and where you can find them.

But what are they used for? What apps use chatbots?

Here are some innovative chatbots by companies and institutions. You can test most of them firsthand!

1. Tidio: Tracking Orders and Saving Carts

Tidio is a chatbot app used by online stores. Originally it was a live chat tool. However, many users wanted to automate messages to save their time while still helping customers around the clock.

[IMG: Tidio FAQ Chatbot for online stores]

Tidio chatbot example

Chatbots turned out to be a hit. Most of their features and templates have been specifically tailored for online store owners. By adding a chatbot to their store, they don’t have to personally answer the same customer queries again and again.

This type of innovative chatbot improves customer service and increases customer satisfaction. It can even increase sales by rescuing abandoned shopping carts. Not too shabby, huh?

2. Vivibot: Cancer and Mental Health Chatbot That Listens

Chatbots can sometimes become friends or even therapists. They can have their own personality and become a soul mate for people who are going through a tough time in their life.

Vivibot chatbot example

Vivibot is an innovative chatbot that was designed to assist young people who have cancer or whose family members are going through cancer treatment. By answering their questions and interacting with them on a regular basis, Vivibot helps teenagers cope with the disease.

These chatbots are a great first step for people who may be experiencing a sad or depressed mood or anxiety to reclaim their mental health. 

—Danielle Ramo, one of Vivibot’s creators

Experts claim that mental health chatbots cannot replace interacting with real humans. But they can become a helpful part of therapy.

3. Roo: Sex Education Chatbot

Talking to kids about “bees and flowers” is a tricky business.

So, When mommy and daddy love each other very much… Well. Umm. You know what? Maybe I’ll let the robot explain it. 

Joking aside, sex education and sexual health awareness are at a dire level. The subject is awkward and very sensitive. Most of us don’t feel comfortable talking about our doubts or health questions related to sex. That’s exactly why projects like Roo are important.

Roo chatbot example

Let’s face it—

If you were a teenager, who would you more enjoy talking about your sex life to? A chatbot or your school counselor?

4. Globe Telecom: Messenger Bot That Helps Customers

While projects like Roo get the most public attention and media coverage, chatbots are mainly used to streamline business processes. 

For example, Globe Telecom—a provider of telecommunications services in the Philippines—has over 62 million customers. The daily volume of their customer service inquiries is massive.

So, they added a chatbot to their Facebook profile.

Globe Telecom chatbot example

Their results?

The company managed to reduce the number of calls by 50% and increased its team’s productivity threefold. Oh, and the customer satisfaction went up too.

5. Chirpy Cardinal: Social Chatterbot

This chatbot had been developed by Stanford University for the Alexa Prize competition. Chirpy Cardinal took second place. It uses advanced neural networks and focuses on creating engaging conversational experiences.

Chirpy Cardinal chatbot example

Chirpy Cardinal utilizes the concept of mixed-initiative chat and asks a lot of questions. While the constant questioning may feel forced at times, the chatbot will surprise you with some of its strikingly accurate messages.

6. Siri: Apple’s Virtual Assistant

Is Siri a chatbot? Well, virtual assistants are a separate breed of chatbots. But they are chatbots nevertheless. And some of the most popular ones too.

Siri is available across all devices with iOS—like iPhones, iPads, or Macbooks. With over 1 billion iPhones alone, Siri has the highest number of active users—far more than Google Assistant, Alexa, or Cortana.

Siri chatbot example
  • You need an Apple device with iOS to try out Siri

Unlike Chirpy Cardinal, who wants to chat for the sake of chatting, Siri is more concerned with getting things done. It won’t ask you random questions out of the blue. You can think about Siri as a voice-based computer interface rather than a separate entity you can talk to for fun. Still, Apple’s virtual assistant does tell jokes. If you ask it nicely.

7. LaMDA: Sensible Conversational Chatbot

LaMDA was created by Google and is an improved version of the Meena chatbot. Let’s decipher the name of this AI bot. It stands for “Language Model for Dialogue Applications.” It is the most sensible chatbot up to date. And it can carry on a conversation about any topic

The verge tweet

This AI can judge how well a given message fits within the context of the entire conversation. This sounds like something basic. But even the most advanced chatbots get confused during seemingly simple conversations. Getting rid of the context switch issues is a huge step.

8. Blender: Facebook AI Bot

Many big tech companies are competing to find out who can create the most advanced AI. It is not surprising that a giant like Facebook also wanted to join the race. Blender, also known as BlenderBot, is an open-source conversational AI developed by Facebook. 

Facebook is openly comparing the results of its conversational AI with Meena. According to their tests, 75% of users preferred a long conversation with BlenderBot rather than Google’s chatbot. However, such revelations can hardly be considered conclusive. During an event called Bot Battle, BlenderBot stood no chance against its opponent.

9. Replika: AI Companion

Many bots solve user problems without drawing too much attention to themselves. The conversation part is only a means to an end. But with Replika bot it is all about chatting. And, believe it or not, forming a (romantic) relationship with AI.

Replika chatbot example

While this may sound a little bit dystopian and scary, millions of users believe it works. They chat with Replika for fun, to blow off steam, or to find a reliable companion. Replika always writes back and has time for you. And it tries to win you back after a breakup. 

10. Meet Einstein: Digital Human Experience

Microsoft has patented technology that will create chatbots based on people who have died. The software is going to analyse social media messages of the deceased and resurrect them as chatbots. Sounds like something out of a sci-fi horror but we’ll see how it turns out.

For now, we can talk to Albert Einstein who has also been brought back to life, thanks to UneeQ Digital Humans. The company used the character of a famous scientist to promote their app for creating AI chatbots.

Meet Einstein example

The project was created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein’s Nobel Prize. Now millions of people can ask him what is 5 + 5 and how to make an omelette. It’s hard not to ask yourself if poor old Albert would consider this a technological miracle or being condemned to an eternity of virtual torment.

If you want to check out more innovative chatbots go here: 18+ Best Chatbot Examples

Conclusion: The Future of Chatbots

Chatbots are an extremely promising technology. They are bound to stay with us and will grow in popularity with the increasing adoption of messaging apps and new digital communication channels. You should get used to them as more and more companies are choosing chatbots for marketing purposes and to automate customer service.

While—at least in theory—nothing can replace interaction with another human being, chatbots are all too convenient. With them, businesses can work much more effectively and increase profits.

The biggest advantages of chatbots and reasons why businesses use them include:

  • Offering better customer experiences and real-time service around the clock
  • Increasing operational efficiency and reducing the number of repetitive tasks
  • NLP and machine learning technologies are easier to use and cheaper than ever
  • Customer support teams can build chatbots and use chatbot technology without writing a single line of code
  • Great functionality and wide range of application ranging from healthcare to eCommerce 
  • Anyone can create their own chatbot that matches their business needs

Incidentally, if you would like to test one of the most popular chatbot tools, you happen to be in the right place.

Provide 24/7 customer service even when you sleep.

Create unlimited chatbots for your website without coding to engage more visitors.

Learn About Chatbots

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Kazimierz Rajnerowicz

Tidio's Content Editor and Copywriter. Casimir writes about live chat and chatbots and watches over the technicalities of the publication process.

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