Last summer the Wall Street Journal declared "robots on track to bump humans from call-center jobs." While these threatening headlines and bold proclamations are not entirely unwarranted, what is the real business value--particularly for companies who don't have call centers and may not even have a receptionist?

The truth is chatbots today are what web sites were in the early 90s, but their demand is amplified by the success of both Amazon Alexa and Google Home. As we transition into an interface-less world, the "intelligent agent" is a means to communicate with a product or service in a fundamentally human way but without the frustration and lack of control associated with long wait times or bad hold music.

Why Should I Care About Chatbots?

The reasons to take chatbots seriously are the overall growth of mobile, and the low cost and ease of implementation which makes the barrier to entry miniscule. Although this story began with a natural language assumption bots can be text-based like Facebook Messenger or Slack. In any case the instantaneous accessibility is appealing to both personal and business users. The always-on and on demand-nature meets our minimum expectation in a world where our perpetual state of multitasking demands a fluidity between multimodal conversations across a proliferation of devices.

How to Use Chatbots Successfully

Customers love chatbots because they are very simple and minimalist, which brings us to our first rule of the road: A chatbot should have a very limited scope. Second, you should convey the chatbot's features during the user on-boarding process. Third, like email, don't spam. To that end, your chatbot must understand and respond to commands such as stop, unsubscribe, and cancel.

Successful bots will not be standalone applications, but rather a set of conversational interfaces which can be deployed across all of the channels consumers use - messaging applications, mobile applications, phone systems, Web, chat applications and social media. If we take an easy jumping off point like Facebook, offers an effortless, low-tech way to create a Facebook Messenger chatbot for a small business. Slightly more complex is which supports bot building platforms chatfuel and dexter to enable conversation through Facebook, Slack, Google, Alexa, Kik or Twitter . If you are a developer or if you have one on your team, build a chatbot in 10 minutes with Watson Conversation. This enables dialogue across a multitude of channels including mobile devices, messaging platforms and even robots.

How Chatbots Can Affect Your Bottom Line

If conversion is what you are after consider which touts a 30 percent boost in conversion rates. Interested in driving customer engagement, check out Swell, who guarantees a response rate of 1,000 in 24 hours, but don't forget your other business intends like improving customer service, decision making and productivity. Simply offering personalized user experiences may be a sufficient on ramp for some. As with any new channel, clearly define your KPIs and be prepared to test and learn. No one is an expert in conversational UI, but this space surely is a hot topic for both internal and customer facing conversations. In three years customers will manage 85 percent of their relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human according to Gartner.

Globally, 57 percent of firms that Forrester surveyed this month are already using chatbots or plan to implement one this year (based on a case study from July 21). If you find yourself short on inspiration explore what some of your favorite brands are doing in this space on If you are still thirsty for more and feel passionate about this topic attend the Chatbot Conference on September 12 in San Francisco. Topics include bot design and user experience as well as brand and enterprises in the bot space, and presenters include: who touts use cases such as employee self service, corporate travel, insurance claims and health care benefits.