What's The Result of Our Co-bot MVP? Chatbots Used as Companion Bots

“It is interesting and as a librarian, one of my jobs is helping people find media they like. I could potentially use this tool to help my patrons find suggestions and recommendations.”

Answers like these provide insights in the future potential of chatbots however, a change in approach is needed to unlock the full potential.

What is a co-bot?

Nowadays chatbots are a very hot topic, a lot of companies (tech-related or not) have one. Most of them are able to answer basic questions or assist customers with quick support. Companion bots (or co-bots) are different. Co-bots offer personal service in a conversational way with the goal of assisting customers to complete mundane tasks, so that they just can focus on living their lives.

Conversational interfaces

Messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and so forth, have grown exponentially in the past 6 years. Their growth ensured that they've become indispensable in our daily life. These three apps alone had 4.5 billion active users in July 2020. Yet most companies ignore that fact and choose to create their own apps. They spend lots of resources on attracting users to their new app. These strategies can still work, however for most cases there is a more effective strategy at hand.

Why go conversational?

The rise in popularity of messaging apps creates opportunities for conversational interfaces. In recent years more and more companies have been experimenting with the use of conversational interfaces. The main benefit comes from the fact that companies can reach their customers very effectively. That is because most of the worldwide consumers already use these apps on a daily basis. The added benefit of their daily usage is that the use of messaging apps and conversational interfaces (when designed properly) feels intuitive to them.

Reaching your customers.

The question you should ask yourself is: “How can we effectively reach our target market?” Do you want your company to spend lots of resources on attracting (new) users to your new product, or do you position your product on a channel where your customers are already active? The second strategy sounds more effective right?

Our experience with co-bots.

We saw the uprise in chatbot applications and came to the conclusion that most of them were used to assist companies (e.g FAQ’s, basic customer support). Apart from Google Home, Siri, etc. (that assist users with news updates, calendar, Q&A’s and smart home control), there were little chatbots available that assisted consumers with specific tasks in their daily life. Therefore we came up with the co-bot, also known as companion bot. We assumed that a chatbot that offers personal service in a conversational way with the goal of helping customers complete mundane tasks, would provide value to the end consumer.

Arising questions.

Do people want to use a co-bot? Do they see value in the service? And if so does it offer more value than the traditional methods? To gain insights we chose BookBuddy as the right MVP to gain the answers.

Meet the co-bot MVP BookBuddy

BookBuddy is a co-bot that suggests books to its users. Have you ever searched online for a new book? We did, and it took us all quite a while to find the perfect book. To help people find a new book faster we created BookBuddy. Once you started BookBuddy he asked a couple of questions about your preferences that helped BookBuddy pick the right books for you. To measure the user experience we looked at the usage patterns and held a survey at the end.

How did we enrol the co-bot MVP?

BookBuddy was available on both Facebook Messenger and the web.  Using our own network in combination with Facebook Ads we promoted our MVP.  We set out to test from the beginning of April to half of May. Around 3 weeks in we got around 150 users that had tested BookBuddy, of which 18 had filled in the survey. We were aiming to have at least 100 completed surveys at the end of the testing period. To achieve that goal we needed to change our strategy.

Finding the target market.

In the beginning, we had trouble locating and engaging our target market. But after 4 weeks of trial and error, we found an entrance. Because Facebook Ads weren’t very effective, we tried a different channel.  We made posts on several book-related subReddits and the one on r/Booksuggestions delivered us viral growth. Within 3 days we went from 150 users and 18 surveys to around 1100 users and 150 completed surveys.

What were the results?

At the end of the test period, we had around 1200 users, of which 150 had filled in the survey. Respondents were asked a variety of questions about their experience and their wishes and needs. Overall the respondents showed that they saw value in the use of BookBuddy.

"Using BookBuddy makes the search for a book more alive. At the moment I still find the book industry quite classic in communication, there are many opportunities for creative ways of discovering books.“

What can be improved?

The respondents pointed out multiple improvements for BookBuddy.

“Add more categories so that one can be more specific if desired” and another respondent mentioned: “I think asking more about someone's preference to really learn what they like or dislike - maybe 'name your favorite and least favorite book' or something!”

Interpreting the results.

After analysing all the answers that were given, it became clear that the improvement could be summarized in two points. The improvement of the personalization of the experience and the improvement of BookBuddy’s interactivity. 

Improving personalization.

The categories we used in the BookBuddy MVP, were too broad and didn’t represent the varying interest in the target group. The results showed that users expect an experience that is tailored to their needs. For BookBuddy this means that the book collection and the availability of niche categories need to be expanded. Thereafter, BookBuddy is able to make way more personalized book suggestions to its users. 

Improving interactivity

In the current state, the co-bot BookBuddy is able to answer very basic questions and provides book suggestions based on the chosen categories. If a user tries anything else, BookBuddy doesn’t have a response ready. To generate value with a co-bot, the bot needs to be able to respond to questions related to the co-bots subject(s). In BookBuddy’s case, it needs to be able to have a more human-like conversation about all book-related questions.

Key takeaways for the future.

  • Co-bot users expect an experience that is tailored to their needs. 
  • The companion bot needs to be able to have a human-like conversation with the user about anything related to completing the task(s) at hand.
  • A high degree of personalisation and interactivity in a co-bot is the only way to provide real value to the user.

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