The Rise of Bots and the Impact on Your Business
Last year at PPAI Women’s Leadership Conference, I facilitated a session titled “Emerging Technology Trends,” which I also facilitated at the PPAI Expo this year. In this session, I covered the rise of bots, and how they improve our personal lives. I then went on to point out how bots will impact business. It’s a matter of when, not if.
Fast forward nine months, and even I am surprised at the pace at which bots are growing today. Amazon Alexa is the current catalyst with the low-cost price point and ease of use. As of September of last year, Amazon was happy to have 3,000 “skills” (think of a skill like an app). As of January this year, Alexa had more than 7,000 skills. Alexa has accelerated the adoption of bots even faster than I anticipated. While the current value to the business-to-business market on Alexa and other devices is limited, the concept of bots is not limited to consumer devices.
Bots are simple applications that take voice input and take a specific action. We’ve been using bots for years to do simple queries with Google and Siri. Your “out of office” reply is a bot, albeit a very simple one. It receives an email and sends a preplanned answer. When you call into customer service at many companies today, you interact with a bot either by dial pad or by voice (this is an example of a bad “bot” that frustrates people, and explains why bots were previously slow to catch on).
Remember when ATM’s first came out? While some loved them, many hated them. Today, managing your banking over the internet is preferred over ATM and tellers. It took decades to get to this point with banking. However, in just a few short years, we are now at a turning point in how people are becoming extremely comfortable with bots.
Consumers love the ease of saying “play my music” or “turn on lights.” We are being trained to accept that bots are the best way to answer relatively simple questions. Why call someone for a simple answer that Alexa or Google can provide? Google has already transformed the way people search for products, but it’s going to get much more sophisticated as bots continue to grow.
In the promotional products business, bots will take longer to create value and adoption. As distributors and suppliers do a better job providing electronic information, the value of bots will increase. Some distributors have already created an Alexa skill and more surely will follow. The easy solution is: “Alexa, ask Geiger to tell me the status of my order,” and have Alexa read off the status of any open orders. It’s quite easy to do this with Amazon if the data is available on your website. Yet, customers aren’t particularly likely to use Alexa. Instead, they are likely to go to your website or email you, and a bot can easily answer this question.
Most bots that exist today are non-voice bots which will grow more rapidly than voice even if the voice bots get more attention. Once you build a bot, it will be easy to add the voice recognition. Think about your customers emailing you, “I have a tradeshow coming up, what ideas do you have?” and your bot automatically generating a list of items (with links to your website) for your client.
Perhaps the reply is sent to you rather than your client, so you can add insights before sending to your client. Now imagine, the next time a client emails you, that your bot automatically learned from your reply and adds your insights to the next reply. (The additional learning would fall under artificial intelligence which is also growing rapidly.)
The impact on our society from bots is dramatic, and is preparing us for very significant cultural change that will likely happen sooner than you'd think. As bots become more prevalent, we’ll become more comfortable with robots, although we will grapple with societal changes (Bill Gates recently proposed taxing robots that take jobs away from humans). As you think about it, an ATM is essentially a robot that replaced thousands of tellers.
It will be hard to implement valuable bots in the promotional products industry in the short term because so few companies have standardized electronic data. That is changing, and as it does change, be prepared for the rise of the bots. Embrace the bots, and you’ll be a long-term winner. Start by embracing them as a consumer so you get comfortable. You’ll be glad you did.