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Chat Bots, Potty Bots, and the Future of Customer Service (Hint: It’s Bots)

Facebook is no longer just a “social network.” Take, for example, its audacious leaps into virtual reality and internet-for-all. At its recent developer conference, F8, Facebook continued its foray into the future by introducing bots and a bot-building platform for its messenger app. Now, the idea of a bot that responds to your text commands with helpful text responses may not seem too futuristic. We’ve been here before, think Microsoft’s Clippy. However, Facebook, and many other tech giants, are betting big money that within a year or two, bots will be responsible for many of our customer service interactions and will be a driving force in the Internet of Things.

Says David Marcus, Facebook’s VP of Messaging Products, “Bots can provide anything from automated subscription content like weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them.

For the first time ever, bots will let you instantly interact with the world around you. - Ted Livingston, Founder and CEO of Kik

Rest in Peace, Clippy

It's easy to picture an army of hapless Clippy-bots and write off the bot revolution. Yet, another messaging app, Kik, and its founder, Ted Livingston, already have a vision for where they can lead their bot army. At Kik, they’ve been asking the question, “what will bots let you do that the PC, the Web, and mobile never let you do before?” And, the answer: “For the first time ever, bots will let you instantly interact with the world around you.” Livingston elucidates this answer with a vision of how a bot could help him order beer at a baseball game. There, he sits down to see that the seat in front of him has a scannable sticker asking him, “Want a beer? Chat with us!” So, he opens his chat app, scans the code, tells the app how many beers, what type, and if he’d like to pay with the card on file. With a couple of simple text commands, Livingston and his friends have communicated their needs to a seat in the stadium and are moments away from having a couple of cool beers delivered.

Now, admittedly, this all sounds like QR codes, and, aren’t there already apps that you could download at a baseball stadium to order beer? Well, Livingston argues that with apps there are so many steps: go to the app store, download, create a profile, enter credit card info, etc. that you might as well be standing in line. As to QR codes, Livingston argues that the reason they never took off in the West is that the experience on the other side of the scan was almost universally terrible. Think of a pinch and zoom desktop site or, even worse, an unfamiliar user experience. Bots maintain the familiar “conversational interface” of your messaging app, so whether you’re interacting with a stadium seat or the ticket counter at a train station, you’ll have a consistent experience.

Long Live, PottyBot

Here at SilverTech, our Internet of Things (IoT) Engineer, Shawn, has been hard at work experimenting with and implementing many IoT systems in order to bring our historic Ash St. Schoolhouse to life and make our lives easier. As a fun and helpful experiment to determine the usefulness of bots, he implemented one much like the one Livingston envisioned at the baseball stadium. Meet PottyBot.

PottyBot is a custom Slack bot that Shawn built to help us locate an available restroom when the need arises. To use PottyBot, we simply use our internal messaging app, Slack, to send it a direct message. Sending it the command, “status,” will give you an update on which bathrooms are available and where.

I’ll let Shawn explain how it works:

“This IoT system is built from a few rather simple components. At the heart of PottyBot is a small single board computer known as a Raspberry Pi. The particular Pi I chose for this system has about the same components as you would find inside your smart phone. Attached to this Pi are two switches that detect when a restroom is occupied or not. The two pins used in this design have been setup to detect when a switch is pushed in (‘closed’ circuit) and when it is released (‘open’ circuit). This is how PottyBot knows if someone is using a restroom or not (the switches are behind the bolt-lock mechanism in each door).

The final piece of the puzzle is the Slack interface itself. The bot is written in JavaScript that runs directly on the Pi using Node.js. This bot is connected to the SilverTech Slack team using a special token generated when a bot is created within the admin portal. This token allows the JavaScript to login just like all users do. Using the real time messaging API provided by Slack, I was able to configure specific responses to different requests sent to PottyBot. If PottyBot receives the word ‘status’ it will respond with the content written to the text file from the Python monitoring application.”

5 Reasons You Need Marketing Automation

Conclusion Bot

Therein Shawn’s explanation lies the beauty of bots; complicated under the hood but in their application, frictionless simplicity. Thanks to Shawn’s PottyBot, our historic Ash St. Schoolhouse home, built in 1873 and in the Register of Historic Places since 1975, has gained a level of sentience. Think of the myriad ways in which financial institutions, hospitals, and universities could put bots to use!

Here are a few thoughts:

Financial Institutions

  • A teller bot at the ATM that allows customers to ask questions that go beyond the ATM’s capabilities such as current loan and deposit rates
  • A mortgage bot that you meet at the branch, then use as you continue on the home shopping process and ask questions along the way

Hospitals

  • A check-in bot that allows you to chat about wait times, pre-screening questions, and health tips

Universities

  • Admission bots that can guide you through the whole admissions process
  • Campus bots that help you get around, find out dining hall wait times, and other useful campus info

The bot revolution is upon us, as Ted Livingston boldly puts it,“Chat apps will come to be thought of as the new browsers; bots will be the new websites. This is the beginning of a new internet.” Are you bullish on bots or do you think they’ll go the way of QR codes? Can you think of any bots that might help your customers? Let us know.

Ian Hughes, Content Marketing Strategist
Meet Ian Hughes, Content Marketing Strategist

After pursuing careers as diverse as filmmaking and professional soccer, Ian landed in the Financial Services industry where

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