Thought Catalysts: Erin Bury on Chat Bots

June 21, 2017 Erin Bury, Speakers' Spotlight

There are leaders and then there are followers. Generally the idea is to be the former. 

But perhaps it's worth a shot to look at this phrase the other way around. Maybe to be a leader, it's worth being a follower. 

The people who lead the way with awesome ideas and unique talents did so by acquiring knowledge and applying it in new and interesting ways. We all need to learn stuff to lead stuff. And those who do it best inspire others to act. 

They are Thought Catalysts. Here they are as told by the movers and shakers from Speakers' Spotlight


Chatbots are one of the most buzzed-about tech trends of 2017, with brands including Sephora and Taco Bell embracing them to build relationships with customers. Their value is simple for businesses of any size: they allow brands to have personalized conversations with customers in a completely automated way.

Chatbots are pieces of software designed to simulate human conversation, and they’re often powered by machine learning and artificial intelligence. Bots can live in messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, on social networks like Twitter, or even in your SMS messages. They have grown in popularity due to the decline of mobile apps, the rise of such messaging apps as WhatsApp and Kik, and the launch of bot stores, which have made them easier to discover and use.

There are several ways to leverage bots for your brand. First, they can help augment your customer service efforts. While not every customer question can be solved with a simple automated answer, chatbots can be an effective tool to handle simple questions about operating hours, pricing or booking information. For example, an ecommerce clothing company could have a chatbot answer questions about shipping charges, sizing information and new arrivals, all on a messaging platform the customer already uses. Companies such as Toronto-based Ada.support have launched to help small business owners create chatbots to handle customer service inquiries, so you don’t have to have a large development team or invest in hiring one to build a customer service bot.

Or leverage chatbots for product recommendations and sales. Nordstrom and American Eagle both launched chatbots before the holidays in 2016 to help users get gift recommendations in Facebook Messenger, and the bots provided links to easily purchase the products online. Toronto’s SnapTravel has bet on chatbots being the way people book travel; their bot lets users chat back and forth about their travel dates, location, price range and book hotel rooms from within Facebook Messenger. Since its launch, the bot has processed over $1 million in bookings. Whether you’re selling a product or service, a chatbot can be a way to help customers home in on what fits their needs, and easily purchase from within the conversation.

Bots can also be used for content discovery, with such brands as CNN, Vogue and Quebec’s Videotron launching bots to help users find content and videos. Last year our agency teamed up with local software studio TWG to build TIFFBOT, a “robot film critic” that helped users decide which films to see at the Toronto International Film Festival. Along with being a great way for TIFF to help users navigate its schedule, TIFFBOT was covered by film and technology publications, which is a nice byproduct of chatbots — since they’re still new, launching them can be buzzworthy.

A few keys to success for building a bot for your small business: First, consider which platform you should build your bot on — which messaging tool do your customers use most? Second, decide why your bot exists, and what problem it’s solving — is it a customer service tool, or does it help recommend products to users — or both? Third, develop the bot’s responses, and make sure they match your brand personality and tone. And most important, test your bot and adjust responses based on how users interact with it. Facebook recently reported a 70 per cent failure rate for bots on its platform, meaning that only 30 per cent of interactions with bots could be handled without human intervention. This shows that bots either require a hybrid automated-human approach, or a lot of testing to ensure your bot works seamlessly.

Despite the challenges with automation, there are now over 100,000 bots on Facebook Messenger, and that is growing every day. Bots can help you automate parts of your business, so you can focus on the parts of your business a robot could never replace.


Erin Bury is the Managing Director of Eighty-Eight and a tech commentator. To read more of her posts, visit her page on Speakers' Spotlight. To have Erin speak at your next function, email Speakers' Spotlight at info@speakers.ca. 

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