Brandt Krueger

TECHNICAL PRODUCER, EDUCATOR, SPEAKER, AND CONSULTANT FOR THE MEETING AND EVENTS INDUSTRY. GEEK DAD, HUSBAND

Consultant, Meeting and Event Technology
Owner, Event Technology Consulting
Instructor, Event Leadership Institute
Cohost, #EventIcons - Where the icons of the event industry meet

Filtering by Category: Meeting & Event Apps

Are Chatbots Really the Next Big Thing in Events?

(An edited version of this article was originally published in MeetingMentor Magazine in Summer 2018. Updated January, 2019)

If you were following the Silicon Valley tech blogs, you would have guessed that by now we’d be living in a world filled with chatbots. But as the years came and went, they just didn’t quite seem to catch on in the way that many pundits were expecting, and headlines such as “The 200 Billion Dollar Chatbot Disruption” also came, and ultimately, went.

The meeting and events industry, on the other hand, seems to have a continued interest in chatbots, with more and more articles being written on the subject, and high-profile events providing the service to their attendees. Could it be that an industry that’s all about connecting people might actually be one of the best suited for the next wave of digital disruption?

So what the heck are they?

First, let’s be clear what we’re talking about when we say “chatbot”. One of the easiest ways to think about chatbots is as a form of digital assistant, like Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa. While these assistants can do quite a bit more than your average chatbot (including home automation control, shopping, games, and more), one of the most common uses is to simply answer our everyday questions. “Hey Google, what’s the weather today?” is a question I hear almost daily in my household as the people get ready in the morning, deciding what to wear. “What’s the drive time to Pizza Luce?”, “How tall is Mount Rushmore?”, and “How do you spell Dubrovnik?” were other questions I’ve heard in just the last week. Where these assistants shine is their ability to hear us ask questions in our normal tone, using our normal language, and (hopefully) give us the right answer.

This ability is called “natural language processing” and is a very narrow subset of (buzzword alert!) Artificial Intelligence. It’s what allow us to interact with our digital assistants in a much more “natural” and conversational manner, and what allows them to interpret what information we’re actually looking for and respond with it. Chatbots use the same technology to interact with us, but instead of talking to our event chatbot, we’re interacting with it using text. This could be through an app like Facebook Messenger or Telegram, through a chat box on a web page, embedded within an event mobile app, or even just texting to a specific number set up for the event.

Ugh, who wants to talk to a robot?

Apparently, millions of people. Over the course of 2017 the number of people using voice-activated assistants grew 128.9% to over 35 Million people in the United States alone, according to a report by Juniper Research. The same report estimates that by 2022, over half of US households will have a voice-enabled smart speaker in them. When it comes specifically to chatbots, another report found that 60% of millennials have used them at some point. Of those that tried them, over 70% reported they had a positive experience, and of those that hadn’t tried them, over half said they’d be interested in trying them.

I think a lot of the resistance to digital assistants and chatbots comes from the horrible customer service experience most of us have had with “phone trees”, another form of automation that was supposed to make our lives easier. Who hasn’t wanted to push their phone through a wall at the 9 different options being presented to you, with none of them being the reason you’re actually calling? Usually that frustration stems from the fact that you just want a simple question answered, and you want it answered quickly. That, folks, is where chatbots shine.

Actually Making Life Easier

That’s really what it boils down to: people just want their question answered in the fastest, easiest way possible, and if that means texting with a chatbot, well… then… great. If they want to know where the reception is that evening, they don’t want to open the event app, wait for it to update, click into the agenda, then into the reception entry, and finally get their answer. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to type in:

“Where is the reception tonight?” 

And get the answer:
“The reception is in the Crowne Ballroom, on the 23rd floor. Just follow the signs in the lobby to the west elevators. Don’t forget, it’s a Hawaiian theme, so be sure to wear your best floral print and flip flops!”

Notice how there’s even more information there than was actually requested, potentially saving time having to ask follow-up questions? The bot might even attach a map to the event in the next message, just in case. How convenient is that? Plus, let’s be honest. No matter how many emails you sent out providing that information, you know a significant percentage will have forgotten the information, or even worse, never read them in the first place!

But what if it doesn’t know the answer?

Robot+Questions.jpg

While most people see this as a negative, it’s actually one of the more powerful benefits of chatbots. If it doesn’t know the answer, most chatbots will kick the question up to a real, live person for the answer. Why is that a benefit? Because it can help you identify the questions you didn’t anticipate. After all, a chatbot is only as good as the information it’s given, and can only answer the questions to which you’ve given it the answers. If more and more people start asking a question it wasn’t pre-programmed with, you can simply add the answer to the bot’s program on the fly.

It can also help you react to unforeseen issues with your event in real time. If attendees are asking your chatbot, “How do I get to the ballroom from the hotel?” you may have a signage or staffing issue. If quite a few are asking “Where are the Mothers’ Rooms?” and you don’t have any, you can react quickly and get some arranged- an actual example from an event that utilized chatbots.

The Future Bots

Natural language processing technology is only getting better, and event bots have a bright future. Already, providers are able to get a bot up and running in less than 20 minutes by having the planner fill out an online survey. As AI and machine learning get applied, you’ll be able to offer up your current website and printed materials to be analyzed by the service, and then auto-generating the most likely questions and answers based on that information.

The “event app” went from “Why do I need that?” to almost every major event having one in less than five years, and event chatbots could well be on the same trajectory. So what do you think? Have you tried a chatbot at your event? How did it go? If you haven’t, what’s the likelihood you’ll try a chatbot in one of your events this year?

Google Chrome Update Could Boost Web-Based Event Apps

 

Native meeting and event app providers may have to start updating their marketing materials.

Native apps (the kind you download from the Apple App Store or Google Play) have always touted among their list of benefits their ability to send push notifications, access the camera, and the ease of adding the app to the home screen of a device.  Web-enabled apps, sometimes called web-only apps, exist only in a device’s Internet browser, and therefore have been unable to access the camera or send push notifications.  They also can be somewhat confusing as to how to add a shortcut icon to the home screen.  

Google is starting to change all that.

With a recent update to Chrome for Android, Google is now allowing web partners to push notifications to users, even when Chrome isn’t actively open. The early adopters include Beyond the Rack, eBay, FanSided, Pinterest, Product Hunt, VICE News, and believe it or not, Facebook.  That last one interests me the most, as I’ve detested Facebook’s native app for Android for some time. The ability to get basic notifications, though, might actually get me to check in more than every couple of weeks.

The request for notification access is pretty straightforward, and once you’ve granted a site access, you can revoke it at any time through the app’s settings.  Also, “Block” means “go away forever, and don’t ask me again,” so you won’t have to worry about a site asking every time you visit.

To make the websites you access regularly easy to get to, they've also baked in the ability to have an “Add to Homescreen” button on mobile sites to easily add an icon to the user’s home screen with just one click.  This will allow mobile event app developers to get their apps easily and seamlessly onto the coveted front page of users phones and devices.

Source: Google

Source: Google

And finally, the “holy grail” of mobile app development: access to the camera. With just a few simple lines of code, developers can ask for, and be granted, access to a device camera, allowing web-enabled apps to grab snapshots for use in social media, photo feeds, or other event purposes.

Clearly Google is trying to reduce number of differences between mobile web sites and native apps, and in a post released on the Google Chromium Blog, they attempted tell us why:

“Unfortunately, once users discover [a mobile web] experience they love, it is hard for them to build a meaningful relationship since websites lack the engaging capabilities developers have come to expect from mobile such as push notifications and home screen icons. As a result, developers have needed to decide between the engagement potential of a native app and the reach potential of a mobile website.”

And that’s the same decision that event organizers have had to make as well- deciding between the engagement opportunities that come from using native apps with full access to push notifications and the phone’s hardware (camera, microphone, etc.) or the easy to change/update on the fly benefits of mobile web development, not the least of which is not having to get approved, or rejected, by the Almighty Apple in a reasonable amount of time.

The update, which has already begun to roll out, is currently only available for Android.  Knowing how locked down Apple is, I fear that it may stay that way for the short term.  Nonetheless, this is a big step in achieving parity between native and web-enabled meeting and event applications, one that Google is willing to support and promote with all it’s Googley might.

More Info:
http://blog.chromium.org/2015/04/reaching-and-re-engaging-users-on.html
http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2015/04/google-wants-to-power-up-the-web-with-push-notifications-and-home-icons/
Thanks to Eric Bidelman for calling camera access the Holy Grail in his blog post:
http://www.html5rocks.com/en/tutorials/getusermedia/intro/