The Biggest Trends and Predictions in Conversational Interfaces — Dashbot

At Dashbot, having processed nearly 60 billion messages, we have seen a wide variety of usecases for conversational interfaces — everything from customer service, retail, banking, travel, games, news, religion, dating, and much more.

As the year comes to a close, we wanted to share the insights of industry leaders in the space.

We surveyed experts in conversational interfaces to see what they thought were the biggest trends of 2018 as well as their predictions for 2019.

Our panelists include:

Biggest Trends of 2018

Three common themes emerged from our group of experts in regards to the biggest trends of 2018 — the rise of voice interfaces, enterprises investing more in conversational interfaces, and the use of conversational interfaces within e-commerce usecases.

The Rise of Voice

The interest in voice interfaces really took off in 2018. We saw this at CES at the beginning of the year with all the Google Assistant activations and the proliferation of devices incorporating Alexa and Google Assistant — mirrors, cars, microwaves, and more. Advancements in voice assistants was one of the most common trends in 2018 cited by our panel of experts.

As pointed out by Pat Higbie of XAPPMedia, a duopoly emerged between Alexa and Google Assistant. Both platforms continue to push each other and expand both in features and reach — expanding geographically through supporting more languages and expanding more broadly through multi-modal and additional device support. As Max Child of Volley adds, the platforms are starting to become “real” through monetization and retention tools.

Consumer adoption of these two platforms has led to enterprises needing to support both as part of an overall voice strategy. As Connor Cirillo of Hubspot mentions, personal assistant devices are becoming the “center of gravity” for consumers — becoming entrenched in consumers lives. We saw this in our survey of consumers as well — 65% responded the device has had an impact on their behaviors and daily routines.

As Brandon Kaplan of Skilled Creative points out, we’re still in the early days of voice and haven’t yet reached the potential of what the platforms can do. However, the devices are having an impact on the next generation of consumers — ones that will expect to be able to speak to assistants for their needs.

Conversational Commerce

Our panel of experts saw e-commerce as another area with a lot of growth over the past year.

Enterprises have embraced conversational interfaces for the full e-commerce lifecycle — pre sales to post. As Ben Parr of Octane mentions, merchants are using chatbots for everything from customer acquisition, to retargeting, and post sales customer service.

As Ryan Maynard of ChatDynamo points out, chatbots are helping drive revenues for businesses and becoming part of the overall e-commerce strategy. Following up to shopping cart abandonment and re-engagement are key opportunities for chatbots. According to Ryan, re-engagement through a Facebook Messenger bot is more effective than email or ad retargeting. Ben adds, shopify stores have seen 3 to 25% increases in revenue by adding a chatbot.

Enterprise Investment in Conversational Interfaces

While conversational interfaces are still relatively new, 2018 saw enterprises investing more seriously in them. As Sergio Passos of Blip notes, brands are moving more from Proof of Concepts to ROI based projects.

Enterprises are also expanding their application of chatbots for more use-cases. As Christian Brucculeri of Snaps points out, enterprises are expanding from single use cases to end-to-end experiences to cover more of the customer journey — from awareness and engagement, to post purchase customer care. Mehfuz Hossain of SmartLoop adds that enterprises are understanding the value of these interfaces and expanding the use from marketing to customer service.

Not only are enterprises expanding their conversational use cases, they’re investing significantly in in-house teams as Alex Weidauer of Rasa points out. We see this in our own customer interactions — more and more brands are building out conversation specific teams.

In addition to e-commerce and voice related use-cases, our panel of experts are seeing quite a bit of interest in Banking and Finance as both Scott Ganz of Intuit and Alex mention.

Given the advancements in the platforms and increased investment by enterprises, Lauren Kunze of Pandorabots summarizes the trends in 2018 quite well — “Bots are here to stay.”

Predictions for 2019

Three themes emerged from our experts predictions: growth in voice assistants, improvements in AI, and better conversational apps.

Growth in Voice

Just as the rise in voice was one of the biggest trends of 2018, the growth in this space is one of the most cited predictions. As voice assistants, and smart speakers, continue to take off, better use cases, more functionality, and new challenges will emerge.

Our panel of experts see growth in multi-modal experiences, along with new use cases for these types of devices. Scott Ganz predicts designers and developers will take multi-modal much more serious, and while it may not quite reach mainstream, it’s on its way. Will Hart of Rain, sees the multi-modal functionality opening the door to new ad units.

Another voice trend our experts see is the Google Assistant gaining traction. Audrey Wu of Convrg predicts Google will even gain traction on iOS as it’s a better experience than Apple’s Siri. David Witting of Rocket Insights believes Google will close the gap with Amazon as well.

As Alexa and Google Assistant add more features and functionality, new types of challenges may emerge. Lucas Ives of PullString ponders whether Alexa will be more of a “concierge” or an “oracle” and what impact will that have on brands. Pat of XAPPMedia believes the implicit innovocation of Google Actions and the nameless innovocation of Alexa Skills is essential for discovery, but will lead to increased competition to be number one in a particular category.

Better Conversational Experiences

Given the space is relatively new, many enterprises have not yet fully taken advantage of the conversational nature when building applications. Much like in the early days of iOS when the initial apps tended to be relatively basic and not quite useful — e.g. the “fart apps” — many of the initial chatbots and voice skills were in a similar vein.

Our experts see this changing — enterprises developing better user experiences that leverage the conversational nature of the interfaces.

Not only will brands develop better experiences, they will expand the use-cases into more places. Our experts see brands moving out of Proof of Concepts to focus on usecases they can do really well. One common usecase that stands out in the predictions relates to customer service. In fact, Nico Acosta of Twilio predicts conversational IVRs will become the norm in the future.

Improvements in Ecosystem

Related to the above predictions, our experts see improvements in AI, tools, platforms, and interoperability in the near future.

The underlying AI will get better in the future. One thing our experts point out is that not all chatbots are AI based. That being said, we see continual improvements in Natural Language processing and AI that can help improve the user experiences in the future.

One theme is the increased opening of platforms — for example Facebook opening WhatsApp similarly to Messenger.

As more platforms open up and existing platforms add more functionality, having standards can be helpful. Andy Webb of the BBC predicts the underlying platforms will continue to build common interaction models.

Industries to Watch

We asked the experts which industries they think will make the biggest advancements in conversational interfaces in 2019. The most common choices were Banking / Finance, Automotive, Customer Service, and Retail / Shopping.

Conclusions

Some of the biggest advancements over the past year as well as predicted future growth is in voice interfaces. At Dashbot, we are strong believers in voice — it’s the natural way humans communicate. As we have mentioned in previous articles, if you remember the videos of two-year-olds swiping iPhones and iPads, the same thing is happening with devices like Alexa and Google Home — kids know how to interact.

As many of our experts have pointed out, and we see first hand in the analytics — customer service, across verticals like banking and automotive, and retail commerce are some of the biggest usecases in this space. It makes sense as well — enterprises want to provide customer service 24/7 but do not necessarily want to pay for human agents — they need chatbots to be effective to understand users requests and respond appropriately. In terms of commerce, retailers and food delivery brands are trying to enable users to make purchases through conversational interfaces.

We believe conversational interfaces are the natural evolution of human computer interaction. Chatbots and voice apps are maturing as more brands move the initiatives out of innovation and into the business units. There is a lot of opportunity in this space and we look forward to seeing what both brands and developers build in the future.

About Dashbot

Dashbot is a conversational analytics platform that enables enterprises and developers to increase engagement, acquisition, and monetization through actionable data and tools. In addition to traditional analytics like engagement and retention, we provide conversation specific metrics including NLP response effectiveness, sentiment analysis, conversational analytics, and the full chat session transcripts. We also have tools to take action on the data, like our live person take over of chat sessions and push notifications for re-engagement. We support Alexa, Google Home, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Twitter, Kik, SMS, web chat, and any other conversational interface.

Chatbot, Voice Assistant, and AI Entrepreneur; Conversational AI partnerships at AWS; Former CEO/Co-founder Dashbot