A bearded man stands before you. He is dressed entirely in black, sporting a polo neck, tight blazer, and a silver chain. He is not, you realize, a Blackpool hypnotist but, in fact, head of innovation at a major brand. He is talking about chatbots.
At this point you are permitted to sigh. Last year he talked about chatbots. A lot. Even when everyone else was bored of them, he persisted.
I went to just such a presentation recently, and, like you, I was tempted to mentally shut down. I’ve tried them all. The bot that suggests cocktail recipes, the bot that talks about your feelings, the one that makes ingratiating banter while selling sandwiches.
Enough with the bots, I thought.
I did not shut down though, I paid attention. When the head of innovation showed a roadmap slide, I actually sat up.
This slide showed all of the brand’s touch points with the public. No exaggeration here. App, web, social, call centers, store, the hardware they made, even their banner ads.
Above all of these touchpoints was his chatbot, its reach indicated by a double-headed arrow covering the entire slide. This bot was going to be everywhere.
This was the second time I had seen that slide. The first time was while working for another, very different brand. It confirmed for me that something is definitely going on. Many brands I’m working with have some kind of broadly chatbot-ish project under construction. Voice projects, WhatsApp bots, text message-like UI for websites. A very few though, the ambitious ones, are working toward something much bigger. Let’s call this bigger vision an omnibot.
What Is An Omnibot?
It is a conversational entity that represents your brand everywhere. Amazon led the way with Alexa and now other types of brands are copying the idea.
Omnibots converse in both text and voice. You type to them on Messenger, you speak to them via Alexa, you call them on your phone. It may seem unlikely, but that insignificant Facebook bot you built last year could one day become the face, voice, and embodiment of your brand.
In other words, an omnibot is what happens when chatbots grow up, and nothing less than a CX and UX revolution.
Recently I have been advising on an omnibot project. There is a lot to think about, much of it entirely new ground for brands. Let’s all pull on a black polo neck and talk it out.
It’s An Omnibot World
You may think that chatbots remain in their Facebook playpen and have not happened yet. This is years down the line, right?
Wrong. There are two giant omnibots stalking the earth right now. Google Assistant and Alexa. There are plenty of other players like Siri, Cortana, and Bixby hoping to weigh in.
You may think of them as digital assistants or chatbots or voice skills, but make no mistake, both Google and Amazon are planning for a future in which Assistant and Alexa play a starring role in their respective legacy UIs and could even replace them entirely. Look at the massive thing Google built at CES. Google hardly shows up at CES, yet this year, the company built a multistory temple dedicated to Assistant.
Some of the most disruptive companies have already started the soup to nuts conversational approach of omnibots. The insurance company Lemonade has. The company’s bot, Maya, is both a photograph of a person and a CX conveyor belt. Customers are onboarded by Maya and the chat-led relationship continues from there.
Brands Are Becoming Beings
So you’re persuaded. The march of the omnibots has started, and your company needs one. It is at this point, things get weird.
You’ll find yourself in strange meetings, discussing strange topics. “Eyes? Should it have eyes? What do eyes mean on a brand level?” ”
This is an actual quote from one of these unusually existential meetings.
Here’s that weirdness summed up. When you start an omnibot project, your brand evolves from logo to being. Yes, I know, it’s a worrying and Orwellian idea. Suddenly Black Mirror contains more guidance than brand TOV guidelines. Amazingly there’s already a fascinating history of salesmen crafting fake beings to flog inventory. Behold these uncanny automata, created to push watches on the kings of Europe.
As we move into a new, mass era of commercial automata, you’ll probably want to aim for something much less creepy. Creating an omnibot is not just about tech. It is about creating an illusory person that customers will want to have in their lives.
Of course your omnibot has to be fast, answering questions more deftly than a web search, but personality will count, too. In the near future, there could be a profusion of omnibots. In this digitally crowded scene, charm will be paramount.
In part two of this series, I’ll outline some of the identity, design, and tech decisions you’ll need to think about when creating an omnibot.