”Hey Google, what’s your prediction for chatbots in 2019?”

That’s what I asked the assistant on my phone.

The ‘okay-ish’ results that followed motivated me to list down the top 5 chat & voice bot trends impacting the marketing game in 2019.

But before we look ahead, let’s quickly look back.

What happened in chatbot country last year?

Google’s conversational commerce innovations

Back in 2018, we witnessed a great wave of conversational commerce & chatbot technology emerging across the globe.

Obviously, the industry applauded when Google Duplex was announced.

This new technology for conducting natural conversations to carry out simple tasks via voice over the phone was very promising, despite being in its early stages.

Equally interesting was the launch of Google AdLingo (right from Google’s Area 120 incubator).

This new AdTech application integrated chat right into display banners — a goodbye to click-outs and drop-offs, and a hello to in-ad-conversions.

Facebook’s focus on messaging

During 2018’s F8, Zuckerberg announced technology integrations like the Augmented Reality camera effects on Facebook Messenger.

Other features included payment & check out options within Messenger and auto-translation of chat threads.

Clearly, Messenger was preparing to become a feature-rich channel, because Facebook understood that messaging would become more relevant in the future.

However, the temporary stop of the app and bot approval by Facebook was its low point for 2018.

We saw Amazon’s AI recruiting engine developing a negative bias towards women, which meant that there was still a lot of work to be done in this area.

If you are not familiar with the AI bias, I highly recommend watching this short video by IBM which explains it (less than two minutes).

Things are happening! The entire digital conversation space is moving at a fast pace.

The competition is trying to out-innovate each other. So, what’s ahead of us in 2019?

Consumers are spending more time on chat platforms

People crave human connection, and today, we do this through messaging.

Combined, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp see more than 20 billion photos shared every month — evidence of their domination in the chat market.

However, across Asia, we see that consumers have access to multiple platforms and do so according to their social circle.

For instance, in Thailand Facebook Messenger is combined with Line. In China, WeChat/QQ dominates, but local heroes such as Zalo in Vietnam are also used next to Facebook Messenger.

In the U.S. and Europe, we see an increase in conversational commerce, as consumers continue to show a desire to engage with businesses through messaging.

For consumers, the path to customer service or purchasing products is changing. If a consumer has a question, they turn to WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to seek answers, and they expect instant responses.

Ask your friends what they do on their phones all day apart from just listening to music? Messaging!

And there’s no sign that tells us it’s going to slow down any time soon.

2019 welcomes the future of consumer communications — messaging — the new business norm.

Voice tech will become more generally accepted

Voice-based technology has arrived in consumers lives and it’s here to stay.

We already mentioned Google Assistant on peoples mobile phones, but have you noticed that the famous Marriot Hotel was the launching partner for Amazon’s voice-assistant Alexa in hotel rooms?

And competing voice-assistant Google Home has found its way into many homes across the globe.

As much as text-based messaging is dominating today, we’ll see a strong rise of voice tech in 2019 and with it, its general acceptance.

Although it might be command driven at first, as AI continues to develop, we’ll be having conversations with devices, at home or in the car pretty soon.

Companies will invest in conversational commerce

Chief Marketing Officer’s (CMO) and digital leaders around the world have conversational marketing on their marketing agenda.

As the digital marketing industry is plateauing with current channels and methods such as lead forms and websites (yes, websites are old), live-chat and chatbots are already providing enormous conversion rate uplifts — the proof needed for serious budget allocation.

‘’We should do something with bots, but what?’’

I often hear this when talking with brands.

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The awareness is there, early adaptors understand what needs to happen and now the late majority is catching up.

‘’Bots, voice, that’s something we need for our business, right?’’ As with every innovation, there’s the necessary capital investment needed to make it fly.

2019 will see brands moving out of the shadow, and start investing heavily into conversational commerce.

Humans will continue to create the best bots

Conversational AI and Natural Language Understanding will continue to improve in 2019.

However, the best conversational products are still largely due to human craft.

Over the past 7 years, we’ve followed the typical hype cycle when it comes to AI driven conversation in chat & voice bots.

Many marketers around the globe believe that chat & voice bots magically turn into conversational parents on any topic, with one click.

However, pioneers in conversational commerce know that even the best bots require a lot of human design, engineering, touch and love. In both the product development stage and optimization phase, a skilled human eye and hand are needed, next to AI and Machine Learning, to bring bots to life.

This is the only way for voice bots’ conversational skills to grow so that they can turn into a valuable touch points for consumers.

Which brings me to my next point:

Hiring more conversational designers

Remember those days when there weren’t any digital specialists, display & programmatic engineers, Facebook consultants and Google certified marketing experts?

Digital teams on both the agency’s and brand’s side have complete high-skilled digital teams.

Conversational marketing will continue to grow, so will the demand for specialists in this field.

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Skilled people who understand digital conversations, chat User Experience (UX), AI and Language Processing.

Marketers will need to up their skills again.

Watch out for a rising demand for conversational UX designers, bot coders, digital personality creators, persuasion specialists and chatbot marketeers in 2019.

Messaging will transform our relationship with brands in 2019

Consumers have already decided their preferred way of communication — companies are just slow to catch on.

All around the world, consumers show one common behaviour on mobile: messaging their friends, family and businesses through chat platforms.

There are billions of people to be reached, and brands are starting to realize the need to hop on the conversational train if they want to stay connected to their customers.

Budget allocation is getting more serious for conversational commerce, and expectations are becoming more realistic.

The market is expecting a new skill set to serve the fast-growing chat and voice bot industry.

All signs — from conversational commerce on the CMO’s agenda, advancing technology for language processing and more minutes spent on messaging platforms — are pointing towards one hell of a year for chat and voice bots.

Image Credits: gmast3r

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