Ah, Siri--she's getting so useful now that she can summon me an Uber. And Amazon's Alexa, she's got her quirks, but there's no doubt that girl likes to do my shopping. Just a few days ago, Jonathan Browder expanded his popular DoNotPay chatbot, which has saved people over $5 million in challenged speeding tickets, with a bot that will help you draft a letter to your landlord to force them to fix leaky faucets.

On Facebook, the Kayak chatbot has interesting answers about where I can go on a budget. Startups are using chat too--like Digit, a free app that hunts your spending patterns for opportunities to make withdrawals into savings, or Pana, a chat-interfaced virtual travel agency that creepily promises there are some real humans in there somewhere. (I'm still going to try it.)

Many companies are turning to chatbots to develop a deeper conversation with you. Still, you're not exactly going through your day talking to computers just yet. Is that changing? Instead of building an app for your business, the tide may be turning to time to build a chatbot.

App or chatbot?

People are optimized to communicate with people. But today, most apps are a physical interface--you have to touch buttons and menus to guide the application. Typing, handling a joystick, and other forms of physical sign we use for machines take time to master. Chat bots are human native. You don't have to learn anything to use them. Plus, on the technical side, a chatbot doesn't need a big, beautiful, responsive graphical user interface. It doesn't hog a lot of memory to run. Nor does it require a super fast processor to work. Chatbots are as accessible on a low bandwidth cell phone in the Sahara as they are in San Diego. That means if you're a global provider of almost anything, you can reach more of the world.

Chatbots tune in the voice of the customer

You already know programs excel at predictable, repetitive interactions. Think about the patterns in your business or service. For example, Ikea has reskinned its how-to-build-this manuals into a chat interface. Do your customers have patterns where you could help them more if you had a scalable, chatty side?

If your company can successfully adapt your customer service routines into chatbot interfaces, you stand to save significant labor costs and also quite possibly improve customer service. After all, most folk sleep in the same places, eat much of the same food, shop at many of the same stores, work out in a few patterns, drive a steady route, and work in many of the same ways. This is heaven for a chatbot interface. There's no hold time in Botville. It's not just customer service either--any system or process that people want to "walk through" could be rebuilt for chatbot style delivery.

Let's not forget the money, either--according to Citibank analyst Mark May, app stores generate about $40 billion annually. If the interfaces become even easier, apps will be talking their way into a bigger share of everyone's wallet. Instead of creating the "app" for your business, now might be the right time to think about the bot. As long as people like hearing ourselves talk, chatbots are going to be an increasingly effective way for businesses to listen.

Published on: Sep 19, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.