The World’s Best Chatbots for Work and Play


best chatbots

By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

By 2020, Gartner predicts that people will have more conversations with bots than they do with their spouses. That might seem disquieting, but if what you want is to be heard, a chatbot might actually be your best option.

Research conducted back in the 1950s found that “immediately after the average person has listened to someone talk, he remembers only about half of what he has heard—no matter how carefully he thought he was listening.” So humans aren’t very good listeners. It’s science! And I doubt our smartphone obsession has done anything to improve our in-person listening skills.

The silver lining is that artificial intelligence and machine learning have made incredible strides in recent years, with some chatbots becoming almost sophisticated enough to pass as human. Businesses have started using chatbots to scale their communications, improving efficiency and freeing up employees’ time to address more complex work. Hotels use chatbots to enhance and improve the guest experience, airlines use chatbots to streamline the check-in process and provide notifications and alerts, and some businesses use chatbots to handle routine internal questions and processes.

Nearly every field could benefit from trying chatbots—even medicine, where a doctor’s “bedside manner” dramatically impacts the patient experience. One doctor’s office launched a chatbot campaign for booking flu shots: the AI-powered text messages increased the patient response rate by 30%.

So chatbots can apparently be pretty good conversationalists. The pressing issue, then, is what you’d like to talk about. Depending what you need help with, there’s a chatbot for you.

Here are a few of the best chatbots that can either help you to achieve your personal or business goals or just kill some time, depending on how you use them.

Voice Assistants (like Siri, Alexa, Cortana)

I’m the first to admit I might have an Alexa problem. I have an Echo in my kitchen, an Echo Dot in my office, and another Dot in the master bedroom so I can get a news briefing while I do my make-up and listen to music in the shower.

My kids have picked up on this: they ask Alexa for the current temperature all the time, play songs on Spotify, make her repeat silly phrases with Simon Says and play games like The Magic Door. (I prefer Jeopardy.)

Siri is another go-to for me. I use Siri to initiate calls, set alarms, schedule calendar events, and text when typing is dangerous or inconvenient. Occasionally, my kids will ask Siri to tell them a joke or sing a song. They never get tired of her limited repertoire, apparently.

We had a brief experience with Cortana when I was part of a brand ambassador team checking out the Windows phone. Like Siri, Cortana had some jokes on hand that amused the kids, but, sadly, I never got to know Cortana that well. The Windows phone just wasn’t for me. But Microsoft’s recently started making Cortana compatible with other kinds of devices and they’ve improved the bot with skills others don’t have, like opening spreadsheets or suggesting recent documents you might want to view when you fire up your device. Worth a look if you’re tired of hearing “I don’t know the answer to that” from Siri or Alexa. (Amy/Andrew – Meeting Scheduler)

You might have interacted with “Amy” or “Andrew” and not even realized it! The way this bot works is the subscriber copies the bot into an email chain and asks Amy to help you schedule a meeting with the other recipients. The bot then takes over, emailing all participants until a date, time, and location is settled, then creates a calendar entry and invites the designated people. It’s easy to be fooled by this bot, because the task-oriented conversation doesn’t typically delve into emotional or complex areas. Just don’t ask Amy help finding parking near the meeting location: she’ll just ignore your request.

Answer Bot from Zendesk

This chatbot from Zendesk (the customer service platform) helps organizations to enhance customer relationships through chat. The bot is customizable, so Answer Bot would be great for a company that wants to jump on the chatbot bandwagon but lacks the resources to develop its own customer service bot. In the event the chatbot can’t find the answer, it redirects the customer to a human support agent.

Lark – personal health coach

You could use this chatbot to push you toward your fitness goals, or you could use it to help you manage diabetes or hypertension. Not everyone loves dieting with a chatbot, but if you want proactive support and encouragement without the expense of hiring a human coach or nurse, you might give Lark a try.

Replika – “an AI friend for emotional growth and awareness”

This chatbot has a “Black Mirror” style origin story. The developer was working on a messaging app when a close friend of hers died unexpectedly in an accident. She used their past message exchanges to feed the chatbot and created a virtual version of her friend that responded the way he might have. This might sound macabre, but she had leaned heavily on her friend for support and was concerned about how she’d fare without him.

Recognizing the value of a chatbot that could provide emotional support, the developer made the code available through open source under the name “cakechat.” I wouldn’t recommend trying to recreate the consciousness of a departed loved one, but if you find yourself feeling isolated, there are worse places to seek emotional support than through Replika.

Mitsuku – time waster

I tried this because it’s won awards for being so “humanlike” in its interactions. I wasn’t overly impressed. It was better at conversing and context than Alexa and its replies were more on target, but talking with Mitsuku just felt like a waste of time. If you have literally nothing better to do (or you’re just curious), give it a whirl. Mitsuku does have musical preferences, hobbies, and jokes, if you want to know what makes a chatbot tick.

Whether you realize it or not, the best chatbots are very likely becoming part of your life. If you’re looking to get comfortable with our rising robot overlords, try experimenting with some of the best chatbots, or find your own. There’s no shortage of options!

And if anyone wants to try chatting with an artificial version of me, feel free. I’d enjoy the plausible deniability that comes with being able to say “well, they got THAT way wrong.”

kerry gorgone

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is a writer, lawyer, speaker and educator. She’s also Director of Product Strategy, Training, at MarketingProfs. Kerry hosts the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. Find Kerry on Twitter.

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