Do you also provide bots as a service provider or is that specifically Facebook’s responsibility?
Langer: Facebook provides a bots store. It was introduced at this year’s F8 conference in San Francisco. Everyone who registers at this store can build his/her own bot. So far, there has been a lot of testing, trial, and error but there are only few who use the bot in e-commerce. One example of this is the US fashion retailer Spring. Something we see as an opportunity in the future is a mix between bots and customer service in the background since a bot is only able to process 30 percent of inquiries. A customer service representative obviously needs to be available in the background, the moment the questions become more detailed, contain a spelling error or the question has never been asked before.
Is artificial intelligence an issue in this context?
Langer: Absolutely. However, tests that have already been conducted reveal that technology is not good enough yet for the bot to answer questions independently. Microsoft‘s chatbot “Tay“ that was launched in the spring of 2016, can be seen as a negative example. Tay was intended to learn from its users on Twitter. Unfortunately, users taught the bot sexist and racist concepts so that Microsoft was forced to take the bot off the Internet again within just 24 hours. This shows that the issue of bots and artificial intelligence is still in its infancy but carries enormous potential.
Messaging services like kik or WeChat are unknown in Germany. Which messaging services do online retailers prefer and are there differences between countries?
Langer: Yes, there are major differences in some instances. In Europe, WhatsApp and Facebook are the top choices. Facebook Messenger is more popular in France and the southern countries, while WhatsApp is the preferred choice in Germany and the northern countries. There is a simple reason for that: up until two years ago, WhatsApp was not a part of Facebook. That’s why many only used WhatsApp Messenger and that still hasn’t changed much after the acquisition by Facebook.
Things are very different in China. WeChat is very established here. The country is a real trailblazer if you want to see what the future will look like because you can already make payments with this messaging app. The payment function is integrated into the app. WeChat interacts with all other apps and works like a web browser. The Chinese make restaurant reservations, book trips or pay for their purchases using WeChat. In Europe, this type of technology is still in its infancy.