Are Events the Next Frontier for Chatbots?

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There’s nothing more potentially overwhelming than a large conference hall, a busy schedule, and a crush of conventioneers. Even people who thrive on the buzz of an unfamiliar setting may need help figuring out how to make the most of their time, in a way that is flexible, easy, and efficient. Chatbots, designed to simulate conversations in a digital medium, can be a big part of humanizing and improving the event experience.

“Customers want their time to be valued; it’s the main driver of good customer service,” says Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. “Chatbots are maturing to provide easy access and a conversational interface to handle routine, repetitive customer tasks in a way that saves customers time.” 

When it comes to events, there is no shortage of those routine, repetitive questions for which a chatbot could be well suited: providing directions to the keynote ballroom, answering questions about where a specific speaker will be presenting, offering suggestions for sessions that correlate to a particular topic. 

Chatbots can also play a role in underpinning an event’s brand through the tone and nature of its responses. Chatbot providers that specialize in events, like event2mobile and Sciens.io, work closely with event planners to make sure the chatbot’s “voice” aligns with the nature of the event. Chief customer and product officer at Sciens.io, Kristi Colleran, who works with clients to customize their EventBot solution, says, “For a business-oriented event we’ll use a more professional tone in the responses. We did one for an arts festival in Florida where the organizers wanted it to be more playful, so we used more emojis and funnier responses.” 

But when it comes to the role that voice recognition can play for event chatbots, there is an inherent environmental challenge. Says Colleran, “Events can be very noisy, or very quiet. That means that if a user does voice input to the bot [where there is a lot of background noise], it can be difficult for the bot to pick up. Or it can be an inappropriate moment to ask a question”—for instance, in a quiet session room where someone is speaking. In both cases, text input gets attendees to their answers faster.

Some events get around that problem by creating bot kiosks for their events, where users can input questions via text or audio input. However, as Chris Colleran, Sciens.io’s chief technology officer, points out, “If you’re having to walk to where the kiosk is, it’s just as easy to find a human being to ask the question [to].” Or to type the question into the bot without leaving your seat or disturbing those around you.

So as chatbots are rapidly maturing, thanks to consumers around the globe becoming comfortable conversing with Siri and Alexa for questions about movie times and weather forecasts, the integration of speech technology into event chatbots is ripe for improvement. Sciens.io’s EventBot currently allows event attendees to use voice input for conversational questions, which are transcribed to text for the chatbot to process. The response is, at least for now, a text answer.

The next step in the continuum would be natural language processing (NLP) techniques to bypass the transcription step, map to a response, and generate an audio response. “Voice integration is the most natural interface because voice cuts through the clutter and values your time,” says Leggett. “But it still has a ways to go. Natural language understanding will be absolutely fundamental, and machine learning is also critical.”

In terms of chatbot technology and implementation in the event space, says Colleran, “right now it’s like when corporate web pages first came out. But the possibilities are very exciting, as NLP improvements are coupled with other technologies.” She adds, “Bots are really just getting started.”

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