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: Technology

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?

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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?

How to Fix a Loose Charging Port on a Nexus 6 (and probably a lot of phones)

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I love my Nexus 6, but since day one the charging port has always felt like most USB cables didn't go all the way in. As it approached the 2 year old mark, this condition had gotten steadily worse to the point that any and all cables would simply fall out given a stiff breeze.

I searched and searched online, but as often happens if you don't create the exact right set of search terms, I came up pretty empty. A lot of articles blamed "non-OEM" cables, others said they sent theirs back to Google for a replacement.

Even though it was way out of warranty, I did contact Google. They had no answers, suggesting I contact Motorola for hardware support. I was disappointed, but it triggered an idea- I started searching for articles about loose connections on Motorola phones, and not specifically the Nexus 6. Now things started coming up, and with a little digging I found this post on XDA Developers: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1856180

In it, user telmosousa describes how using a toothpick, you can clean out the port on your phone. The toothpicks I had were even still too large, so I literally had to whittle one down to get into the port and... sure enough, a disgusting amount of lint and other crud scraped right out. My charging port is back to its like-new "not quite looking all the way plugged in but nonetheless fully functional" condition!

Whenever I find a "how to" that took me forever to find, I do try and post it here for others!

Hope this helps some people out!

Achievement Unlocked - Made it on TWiT

Well, there's one to check off the bucket list. Last week I had the opportunity to be on the TWiT (This Week in Tech) network as part of the "Call for Help" section of their show The New ScreenSavers.

Left: Fr. Robert Ballecer, SJ  Right: Leo Laporte  Center: A strangely orange and typically shiny me

The show was prerecorded in advance of the US Thanksgiving holiday and released on November 28th, 2015. On this episode, host Leo Laporte was joined by Father Robert Ballecer, SJ, a specialist in enterprise technology, and a Jesuit priest. How's that for a combo for ya?

I originally reached out to the network during my recent unsuccessful bid to get elected to the Richfield School Board, hoping to get their insights on technology in our schools. While I had a strong suspicion they'd be in favor of Chromebooks over iPads or Windows laptops, I was curious to get their take, as well as their thoughts on lower income families who might not have access to the Internet at home.

Why it was a big bleeping deal for me...

Being on the show was a complete fanboy experience for me, and I was incredibly nervous. You see, there's a direct connection between my discovering The Screen Savers (hosted by Leo Laporte, and featuring the original "Call for Help" segment) on the short-lived cable television network TechTV circa 2002, and my life today. At the time, the programming was just interesting to me- geeks talking about geek stuff, a little bit of hacking, and a lot of basic computer repair. Stuff that's proven extremely valuable to me in my life as a technology guy ever since. Not long after I discovered the network, it began to disintegrate. There just wasn't enough mainstream demand for such focused, geeky content.

Fast forward about 5 years or so: I'm married and have a beautiful daughter. One day while surfing the net I discover that Leo's been making a new show called This Week in Tech- but it wasn't on TV, it was something called a "podcast", and you could download it and listen (or watch it) through iTunes. My world opened up in a way I wouldn't have thought possible

Being a new parent, there wasn't a lot of time to sit around watching TV, much less reading a book. Through podcasting, I could keep up on all the technology news I could handle, all the while bouncing a baby, mowing the lawn, shoveling the walk, doing the dishes... Through the podcast world I learned of Audible, and started listening to audiobooks. I don't think I'd read more than a couple books for leisure in the previous 10 years, now I was devouring them at a rate of one a month. We had another daughter, and I began blogging about my experiences as a GeekDad. Some of the articles still survive at the very beginning of this blog.

Listening to podcasts, I discovered Twitter. Within weeks of being on Twitter I started to meet event industry folks that remain my friends to this day. I started going to conferences and meetups, and eventually started speaking publicly. From there I began recording classes at the Event Leadership Institute, which in turn led me to doing more public speaking at conferences, as well as my all day intensive classes on technical production. I met even more meeting and event people, and the next thing I knew I was a co-hosting a podcast myself. Lindsey Rosenthal, Tahira Endean, and I produced a year of weekly industry podcasts called The Event Alley Show. When that came to a halt, I was approached by BizBash to host a new podcast, GatherGeeks.

I've often said that my biggest professional regret was not getting involved in the industry earlier. Basically I lived in my own little company bubble for 15 years. When I started to get out and meet all the fantastic meeting and event people from all over the world, my universe began to change. I went from liking what I do, to loving what I do, and I started my own company.

And if I hadn't stumbled upon Leo Laporte, The Screen Savers, and TWiT, none of that would have happened.


Links:

The New Screen Savers Episode 30

GatherGeeks- A Podcast by BizBash

The Event Alley Show