Are Chatbots the Future of Web Development?

The machines are coming for us.

Not the all-knowing, all-seeing machines à la Agent Smith in The Matrix or Skynet from The Terminator franchise, but rather, machines built as service-based website integrations. We’re talking, of course, about chatbots: The popular interactive software applications that use language processing protocols to mimic human interactions.

The Rise of Language Processing

Our culture loves machines that act like people. From the ill-fated launch of the Microsoft AI chatbot “Tay” to the increasing voice recognition capabilities of personal assistant apps such as Siri and Cortana, tech giants have been fascinated with the concept of integrating human speech into their software. Heck, even smart devices are increasingly powered by voice these days—smart home technologies allow users to turn their humble homes into fully digitized fortresses where light, temperature, and sound can all be controlled with a simple voice command.

And while voice command technologies are making headlines in the consumer market these days, the concepts also apply to how developers are crafting their web-based experiences. Much as smart technologies leverage human language to provide a better UX for customers, web developers are leveraging human language to do the same—only in the form of our friend, the chatbot.

Applying Chatbots for UX Design

Chatbots are fast becoming drivers of on-site customer experiences. In a survey conducted by Oracle of over 800 business leaders from across the world, 80 percent of respondents agreed that they already used—or planned to use—chatbots by the year 2020.

And when the benefits of chatbots vis-à-vis UX design are considered, this push isn’t surprising. When done correctly, chatbots can both automate essential aspects of web-based customer service and improve the user’s overall time spent on the page. Consider the myriad ways chatbots can be applied to enhance the UX of those visiting a website:

  • Customer service – Rather than employing dedicated staff for problem resolution, chatbot interfaces can troubleshoot customer issues and provide a similar customer service experience at a fraction of the cost.
  • Navigation – On-site chatbots are ideal ways to help users navigate a web page and reduce frustration when they can’t find what they’re looking for. For example, after a certain period of inactivity, chatbot interfaces can be set to provide a pop-up window to prompt users to seek guidance.
  • eCommerceeCommerce websites can use integrated chatbots to upsell and push products that the consumer may not have considered. Through realistic human language processing, chatbots can mimic the experience of being helped by a salesperson—providing guidance, adding items to customer carts, and suggesting expedited shipping options.

These are just a few examples of how chatbots can be integrated to provide a more powerful customer experience, but really, the technology is still in its infancy. The full potential of chatbots for web developers has yet to be seen.

The Future of Computing

According to Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, chatbots will “fundamentally revolutionize how computing is experienced by everybody,” noting that while their functionality is limited to support right now, it’s only a matter of time until human language becomes the new interface for computing.

With this in mind, it stands to reason that any website without this type of integration may soon be considered out of date. It’s well known that brands must work to take the effort out of the buying experience; when some sites are offering seamless shopping and browsing experiences through the use of AI-enabled chatbots, those that aren’t will struggle to stay competitive. And as technology advances further in accurately processing human language, more developers will begin to see the benefits of including chat-oriented APIs into their web experiences.