To help decision makers and users wade around the vast landscape of bots, this landscape gives a high-level overview of providers and tools.
Why this landscape, now?
Since we started building bots more than 2 years ago, the landscape has seen massive interest and change. This makes it hard for companies and customers to figure out what’s really happening and what they should do if they really want to build a virtual assistant for their business.
Through this exercise, we deeply explored various bot platforms, bot use cases, and bot frameworks — and we’ve arrived at some interesting observations and insights that may be useful to you (hopefully ).
Obviously, there’s no way to squeeze everyone into the landscape, hence we selected those which fulfill these objectives:
- Give readers an overview of the industry, such as the industry’s structure, notable examples, dominant providers, and tools widely used to develop virtual assistants.
- Help decision makers understand and choose the most appropriate virtual assistant development strategies by crossing business needs and capabilities in the market.
The global market for virtual assistants reached US$88.3 million in 2016. The market will grow to 36% CAGR, to more than $1 billion, through 2023. Other than this growth rate, the current state and structure of the industry is clearly useful to know better — it’s gotten pretty crowded since we started building bots more than 2 years ago!
Ready? Get ready for a long post
We began the mapping process by conducting secondary research, collating data from hundreds of sources, including published studies, companies’ websites, online articles, and personal interviews. In order to give a fair representation of dominant players in the landscape, the study spanned diverse geographical regions and 6 industry verticals, namely:
- Fashion & Beauty
- Travel & Hospitality
- News & Entertainment
- Finance & Insurance
Additionally, we validated the information presented on the landscape by seeking the opinion of established industry players.
To put everything into a coherent structure, we define the parameters and the terms as such:
Horizontal axis: The “marketing” function refers to a bot’s ability to drive exposure, reach, and interaction with the brand or product for potential and current customers. The “support” function refers to a bot’s ability to assist current customers with problems, and to resolve those problems for them.
Vertical axis: “Managed” refers to companies outsourcing the development of bots to external vendors, whereas “self-serve” refers to them building their bots in-house or with an 0ff-the-shelf tool.
From the inside out, the concentric circles represent:
- Platforms: The messaging platforms that enable the existence bots through robust send-and-receive APIs, frameworks and ecosystems.
- Brands: Companies which have launched and experimented with bots, in that particular quadrant (for example, Managed x Support).
- Providers: Companies who have the capabilities to deliver exceptional work in that quadrant.
- Tools: The supporting tools used by providers, brands, or developers of bots in delivering bot experiences.
Details & Explanation
Here are some of our observations about each of the concentric circles: platforms, brands, providers and tools.
In this study, text is the main interaction mode we explore (we might explore voice bots in another study).
As Facebook Messenger is one of the leading chat platforms (with over 1 billion daily active users worldwide), with a strong push internally for Messenger bots, it’s understandable that companies and developers alike have been heavily investing in Facebook Messenger bots.
Clearly, everyone is waiting with baited breath for WhatsApp to open up a bot platform, but it’s still conjecture at this stage. SMS remains a baseline option for communication, and companies continue to use it to send automated reminders and information. As more messaging apps gain a foothold among their intended audience, such as Line and Telegram, their bot platforms will become more attractive for companies to invest in.
Another point to note is that platform adoption and use vary greatly among geographic regions, and certain platforms may work better than others. WeChat, for example, has a naturally huge user base, but may or may not work for your intended target audience.
By platforms, the type of bot content and interaction paradigm also differs. Line and Kik bots tend to be more brand engagement focused, and are more likely to be “loudhailer type” bots (i.e. Announcements and promotions mostly) than SMS or Messenger bots, which tend to be more varied across support and brand engagement.
Brands are companies who have launched their own bots, split by bot type in specific quadrants as defined above. Here we highlight some interesting bots and their functions, and their respective providers, if applicable.
Marketing x Managed
- Universal Studio promoted their horror film ‘Unfriended’ with a Facebook Messenger bot speaking in the character of Laura Barnes, which was developed by Imperson — a conversational AI startup from Disney’s 2015 accelerator class.
- Maroon 5 Bot on Facebook Messenger, developed by Octane AI, improves the personal touch and interactions between the band and their fans.
- The Gov.sg bot on Facebook Messenger, built with KeyReply, helps the government of Singapore provide timely and accurate news and information to their citizens, and broadcast emergency news in the event they are needed.
Support x Managed
- Citibank India’s virtual assistant, developed by Creative Virtual, is located in the Customer Service Center of their website and is designed to provide information to customer queries about Citibank products and services.
- The Bosch service assistant, developed by Artificial Solutions, makes it easy for customers to troubleshoot an issue with an appliance or arrange a service call via its website.
- NinjaBot (for Ninja Van, a fast-growing logistics company in Asia) developed with KeyReply, helps customers track and update their parcels before they reach them, deflecting queries to the support team about parcel status.
Marketing x Self-serve
- Cheapflights, Kayak, Expedia, and more have launched bots of their own to give recommendations on travel products, help customers book flights or hotels, and send booking confirmations on Messenger.
Support x Self-serve
- Marriott International launched Mobile Requests service (via its App) that includes an ‘Ask Anything’ concierge service and ‘Anything Else’ function that allows guests to chat directly with hotel staff, 72 hours before their stay.
Providers are companies who have the capabilities to deliver exceptional work in that specific quadrant.
Marketing x Managed
- Conversable AI is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform for messaging and voice experiences across multiple platforms, including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, SMS, Amazon Echo, Google Home, and many others. Some of the notable use cases are the Marvel Interative Story Bot, Pizza Hut Ecommerce Bot, and CES Twitter Guide Event Bot.
- Assist started out as a local services chat assistant and developed into a chat provider that deploys bots on Facebook Messenger, Twitter DMs, Kik, iMessage and Telegram, among others . They have served Fandango, 1800Flowers, Hyatt, and more.
- Msg.ai develops virtual assistants for multiple channels and provides a dashboard to centrally manage the experiences. They have deployed bots for Sony, CLEAR, and Signal, among others.
Support x Managed
- KeyReply is one of the top AI bot providers in Asia for enterprises and governments. KeyReply’s AI capabilities aim to completely replace humans for some specific support tasks. KeyReply’s customers include the government of Singapore, Fortune 500 companies and Asian brands across multiple verticals.
- Servicefriend provides hybrid bot technology for consistent messaging experiences at scale. They offer an “Interactive Text Response” (the text equivalent of IVRs, interactive voice responders over the phone) for companies such as Globe Telecom.
- Kasisto enables banks to offer services through an automated “Virtual Specialist” so that consumers can use voice or text to assess financial information and perform transactions on their mobile banking application. It requires no coding by banking implementers and is designed for banks to private label their own brand.
Marketing x Self-serve
- Chatfuel lets anyone build bots for Facebook Messenger. Their users include NFL and NBA teams, publishers like TechCrunch and Forbes, and millions of others. Chatfuel is great for simple and focused bots, but may not work for complex virtual assistants requiring lots of customization.
- Octane AI, focuses on allowing celebrity content creators to create tree-like stories that others can engage with on Facebook Messenger. Celebrities such as 50 Cents, Maroon 5, Lindsay Lohan, Jason Derulo, have used Octane AI to build their virtual assistants.
- Gupshup is a bot-building platform that offers businesses pre-made bot templates. It offers both a “no coding required” version and an IDE for developers to build bots.
Support x Self-serve
- Flow XO’s focus is to create an easy virtual assistant building experience. Flow XO enables the deployment of bots to different platforms, such as web, Messenger and Slack.
- Morph.ai is comes with built-in training and understanding modules to give a more accurate understanding of the business’s target audience. However, the platform only allows limited targeting for broadcasting.
- Motion AI offers turn-key templates for many virtual assistant use cases including customer service, meeting scheduling and surveys. However, it only operates on a multiple choice or single bot statement basis. It services global consumer brands including Kia, Fiverr, Sony, and Wix.