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    The Shocking Truth About Chatbots

    Are chatbots really preparing to take over the world?

    There’s definitely a decent amount of individuals out there who feel legitimately threatened by the exponentially increasing knowledge being cultivated by artificial intelligence. Will they soon surpass us to the point that they become self-aware, sentient beings?

    The recent hype surrounding Facebook’s failed AI experiment definitely didn’t do much to ease the ever-growing sense of public paranoia on the concept.

    News exploded onto the digital scene recently from every heavy hitting media outlet from Forbes to Wired and TechCrunch that Facebook’s AI experiment was shut down because staff discovered the chatbots were beginning to create their own secret language between each other.

    The actual truth behind the scenario is far less horrifying than many media outlets would like you to believe. I mean, can you blame them? Would you have clicked on their article if you hadn’t been fed the idea of an imminent technological apocalypse?

    While many can agree that chatbot technology is still in it’s infancy stage, the fact of the matter is that the AI technology working behind the scenes has the potential to immensely impact the economy, job market and businesses all over.

    So, if you’ve been interested in learning more about chatbot technology, the science behind it, how they’re impacting the business industry and their potential effects on the job market, then you’re in luck.

    This article will delve into all of these subjects and hopefully leave you with a greater amount of insight on the topic and how it can and will impact your current and future business pursuits.

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    What are chatbots and how do they work?

    For some reason people want to fantasize about bots being these highly intelligent Terminator-like robots. Well – not exactly. The truth of the matter a chatbot is a relatively uncomplicated concept.

    Chatbots are computer programs that are created to automate certain tasks and these tasks typically involve some form of communication with  a user via a “conversational interface”. This is why they’ve become so popular for use on your favorite messaging apps such as WeChat, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

    These bots follow a set of programming rules, often in an “if-then statement” format, stipulated by engineers via what is coined a “bot-building platform” and often can be done without needing to have extensive coding knowledge.

    Bots are generally broken down into two types:

    1) Informational bots

    2) Utility bots

    The purpose of an informational bot is to provide a user with a new format for content consumption and involve things such as subscriptions to various newsworthy alerts in various industries.

    A utility bot solves a problem for a consumer “via a user-prompted transaction”, with the most readily available example being a shopping bot that helps you order your favorite latte at your local coffee shop or a new pair of shoes. These bots are great for administrative purposes as they excel in automating tasks such as appointment booking and notification alerts.

    The more advanced of these bots are powered by artificial intelligence and capable of processing more complex matters which include everything from personalization of responses and the ability to exponentially grow and improve their abilities over time.

    This is a breakdown of the science behind the reason why you can ask Siri to find you the best pho restaurant in your neighborhood instead of having to search through dozens of listings and websites in order to get this answer yourself.

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    What is their impact?

    According to Ray Kurzwell, a Google engineer who Inc.com also describes as an “inventor” and “futurist”, chatbots will be practically indistinguishable from humans pretty much within the next decade.

    Kurzweil was quoted in The Verge as saying “…you’ll be able to have a meaningful conversation with an AI in 2029. But you’ll be able to have interesting conversations before that,”

    That’s a pretty powerful projection from an insanely knowledgeable guy.

    So what does that mean for our future? How will bots be implemented, how can we benefit from them, and how will they impact our job market?

    Bot-powered commerce is definitely the game of the future (37% of Americans say they’re willing to make purchases through chatbots), but when it comes down to it, they are currently most used in a messaging and/or administrative capacity.

    Messaging apps inherently provide the “conversational interface” necessary in order for bots to operate best – and ironically, according to Hubspot, this is where most people spend their time.

    A recent report by MarketingLand stated that mobile users spend a whopping “80% of time in just five apps” with Facebook and Google dominating the market. Who’d have thought? Even more interesting is the fact that these five spots are “increasingly being claimed by messaging apps”, which as of today, claim more users than any social network (5 billion monthly active users to be exact).

    According to Business Insider, by next year, more than 25% of the world population will be using mobile messaging apps such as Kik, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

    Messaging apps provide users with solutions in an unparalleled effective and efficient manner. Why do people turn to messaging apps? Because 71% of consumers want to get customer assistance so they can find a problem to their solution – fast. Forget spammy emails, forget forms and clutter or countless minutes wasted on searches. Bots provide a service and their purpose is being useful with “minimal user input”.

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    Another one of the more readily available ideas for chatbot use is in the world of virtual administration. It’s pretty much a no-brainer conclusion and this use has long been capitalized on with the implementation of Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, among others.

    Why not? A bot can do everything from making appointments, handling reminders, sorting out calendar issues, handling simple negotiations or ordering an Uber or lunch.

    However, the drawback with these guys lie in the fact  that they simply “can’t engage in complex negotiations”, as Facebook’s Mike Lewis point’s out.

    “If we want bots to help us with more complex tasks, they need to become dealmakers, especially if the task involves cooperation or compromise…” Lewis then goes on to point out that these sorts of skills would be necessary for situations such as handling negotiations of real estate purchases.

    As a result, using bots in a supplementary manner may be a more viable option in the near future. For example, a virtual assistant could handle complex negotiations while the bot could offer “useful tips to the buyer” and provide imperative advice such as “when to withhold certain pieces of information”.

    Regardless of the specifics surrounding their future foothold in the world, one thing is for certain – businesses are taking notice of this trend and jumping on it with gusto.

    According to Research from Forrester, 5% of companies worldwide said they “regularly” used chatbots while 20% of these companies were “piloting them” and 32% of companies were “planning to use or test them”.

    If companies are really looking to become effective in their efforts, Hubspot suggests that they shouldn’t look to bots as simply another communication channel as the “best bots harness the micro-decisions consumers experience on a daily basis and see them as an opportunity to help”. I’m sure you can see the difference.

    The end-goal with bot technology isn’t to use it as an all-in-one solution for an issue, but to have it focus on “a single function” and excel at whatever this function may be.

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    Conclusion

    There’s no denying the fact that general public sentiment around chatbots and artificial intelligence is pretty split. On one hand, we have the “Doomsday” viewpoints which insist that chatbots will soon surpass the cognitive abilities of humans so much so that they will form into sentient beings and eventually claim their true destiny as the overlords of mankind.

    That’s what we like to coin the “glass half empty” view.

    Then, on the other hand, we have the optimistic types who see the technology for the numerous benefits it yields and the countless ways in which it can positively impact humanity.

    Regardless of your personal point of view, one thing is certain, AI technology is some pretty powerful stuff that has the potential to practically transform the economic landscape depending on how it is harnessed and implemented.

    Regardless of public sentiment often leaning towards paranoia, the fact remains that consumers aren’t just ready to interact with chatbots, they prefer them in many cases, especially when they’re made aware of the fact they’re communicating with one.

    According to a recent report, “63% of people would consider messaging an online chatbot to communicate with a  business or brand”. Furthermore, according to Inc.com, 37% of consumers and 48% of millennials are “open to receiving recommendations or advice from chatbots”.

    Perhaps this is the most shocking truth of all.

    What are your opinions on artificial intelligence and chatbots? Tell us about your experience and/or thoughts! We’d love to hear your feedback!

     

    Sources:

    https://chatbotsmagazine.com/3-uncomfortable-reasons-why-chatbots-are-failing-8913901a29e5

    https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/06/the-secret-language-of-chatbots/

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23431304-300-chatbots-learn-how-to-drive-a-hard-bargain/

    https://www.inc.com/larry-kim/11-amazing-facts-you-might-not-know-about-chatbots.html

    http://www.mindshareworld.com/sites/default/files/MINDSHARE_HUDDLE_HUMANITY_MACHINE_2016_0.pdf

    http://www.businessinsider.com/the-messaging-app-report-2015-11

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    How to Market Your Small Business to the Federal Government

    Many individuals may find it interesting to know that the US federal government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the entire world. That’s right – not just in the United States, but in the entire world.

    If your goal as a company is to do business with the federal government, then you first need to understand that the government works differently than the commercial sector and as  a result, your marketing efforts must be tailored accordingly.

    A business must spread awareness about their capabilities in order to get the proper attention, which means understanding their target audience on an innate level and customizing their communications accordingly in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.

    So, in order to help you effectively create and understand more about doing business with the federal government, we’ve developed this article to give you some in-depth industry knowledge on how to better understand how you can effectively market your services to the US government.

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    1. Qualifications

    When it comes to qualifying for government contracts, it’s important to understand the very basics from the get-go.

    Every business, regardless of size needs to classify their company according to a pre-established set of size standards before they begin their journey into government contracting. This is because several  agencies are required to allot a certain percentage of their contracts to small businesses.

    According to the United States Small Business Association (SBA), there are four main steps to registering as a federal contractor.  They are as follows:

    1)      Obtaining a D-U-N-S Number. A Dun and Bradstreet D-U-N-S number is a “unique nine-digit identification” that identifies each location of your business. The process for getting your D-U-N-S Number is free.

    2)      Registering with the System of Award Management (SAM). This the main database that is used to list vendors doing business with the federal government and also serves as an effective tool for marketing purposes.

    3)      Identifying your NAICS Code. NAICS stands for “North American Industry Classification System” and is an industry code that is used by federal agencies for “administrative, contracting and tax purposes”.

    4)      Obtaining an Open Ratings, In. Past Performance Evaluation. Get an objective and independent evaluation on your past performance which includes customer references.

    1. Understand Your Ideal Client

    When marketing to the federal government, it’s important to understand your target agency. The SBA identifies three “customer types” within the federal government that every business should familiarize themselves with. They are:

    1)      Procurers

    2)      Influencers

    3)      End Users

    Procurers are the contracting officers or individuals who are noted to have significant influence on the buying process. Procurers are often “steered by influencers” who often serve as “gatekeepers” to these individuals.

    Influencers are classified as program managers and other various “high level decision makers” who “generate the requirement for a product or service”.

    End users are extremely influential as they are the ones responsible for finding the most qualified contractors available for the position .

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    1. Tailor Your Marketing Efforts Accordingly

    The United States Government Services Administration (GSA) suggests companies ask themselves five essential questions in order to determine the proper marketing strategy to win government contracts. They are:

    • Where are the government customers?
    • What is a successful marketing strategy?
    • How can companies partner with GSA in order to be a better provider to federal customers?
    • What resources are available to assist in becoming a successful marketer?
    • How can GSA help?

    One of the most effective ways to structure your marketing plan is to model it after the federal fiscal year. Businesses should understand that fundamentally, the government’s buying processes are extremely predictable with federal spending “heavily skewed towards fourth quarter of the fiscal year”.

    The final day of the fourth quarter is marked as September 30th  for the federal government and the end of May/June for state and local governments.

    During the first quarter of your year, you should be focused on spreading awareness and generating exposure. Registering with SAM is an effective way to get your business in front of federal buyers, as keeping a pulse on the industry through forums and  interactive communities such as GSA’s “Schedules Contractor Success – Marketing Matters!” group.

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    The second and third quarter should focus on lead generation and research. The Federal Procurement Data System scores agencies based on where they are in meeting their formal goals and other websites such as USAspending.gov and FedBizOpps.gov are great options as well.

    The SBA additionally suggests tapping market intelligence firms to help assist you in this process.

    During the last quarter of the fiscal year, your marketing efforts should be focused on “last minute offers and awareness campaigns” to help give yourself a competitive edge as government agencies scramble to utilize their budgets last minute.

    Keep in mind however that when it comes to your marketing message, getting it in front of these agencies simply isn’t enough. They’re not the same as commercial buyers and have a very strict set of regulations and end-goals to achieve than your standard commercial client.

    For example, offering giveaways is an absolute no-no when it comes to marketing to government agencies because they have an extremely strict set of ethical guidelines to abide by. This includes not being able to accept gifts/gratuities above $20.00.

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    4. Find a Strategic Teaming Partner 

    There are tons of prime contractors out there interested in subcontracting with small businesses of all kinds in their industry. So whether your business is small and disadvantaged, HUBZone-certified, veteran-owned, service-disabled veteran-owned or women-owned, there are a plethora of opportunities available that start with teaming.

    Finding other contractors and businesses to team with is going to be a crucial part of your marketing plan because it provides you with a competitive advantage for three main reasons. Teaming can help you:

    1)         Qualify for set-asides
    2)         Appeal to large businesses looking to get in the door for set-asides
    3)         Better prepare you for large-scale acquisitions

    If your business just so happens to be in an industry which sets aside a portion of it’s contracts to small businesses of your kind, it’s important to remember that these contracts are only required to go to businesses such as yours if there are at least two such businesses that apply.

    What this means is that if you’re applying for contracts where you’re the only small business doing so, then you can guarantee that those set-asides aren’t going to go to you.

    Teaming with other businesses in your industry can help you prevent this from happening and increase your probabilities of being selected.

    Furthermore, there are tons of large and small businesses alike who are interested in and actively seeking other businesses to partner with in order to remain competitively positioned for access to large-scale packaged procurements.

    It’s imperative to also keep in mind that many large businesses within the same industry as your small business are required to subcontract to small businesses when on federal government contracts.

    Also, many large businesses are more than eager to subcontract to small businesses in order to gain access to the small business set-aside market. While there are limitations to their benefits (i.e. they can’t received more than 45% of the dollar award amount), these companies still are able to reap significant benefits from broadening their business base in such a way.

    Mentorship programs are also available for many small businesses looking to  make connections and network with large companies, such as the “Mentor-Protégé Program”.

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    5. Network
    There are several ways in which small businesses can locate others for strategic teaming. For one, agency websites such as the Department of Homeland Security’s, provide a list of various prime contractors open to teaming with small businesses.

    Networking goes a long way, as is the case in any industry and as a result, attending trade conferences and government contracting events as well as joining trade organizations are great strategies. Businesses can also roll up their sleeves and do some research on various technical blogs or search in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR) Database for companies that could compliment theirs.

    OPEN Forum is one example of a great resource for small businesses looking to network because they host educational events where you can gain valuable resources, learn more about the business of government contracting and even meet actual government buyers.

    Also worth mentioning is the fact that all large businesses who contract with the federal government have what is called a “small business liaison officer”. These individuals can be located on the organization’s websites and are available to contact for this very purpose.

    When doing so, you’ll need to identify a “program target as a discussion vehicle” and present a capability statement electronically or in person (preferably in person) to the company of your interest in order to give yourself the best odds for gaining consideration.

     

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    Conclusion

    While getting a government contract can seem like a dream come true for businesses looking to reap the numerous awards these programs have to offer, it’s really just the beginning of the journey. Getting approved for a contract is often an arduous and expensive process (especially if you’re in the business of selling products).

    Once your business qualifies, it’s important to know that this guarantees absolutely nothing. If anything it serves as more of a credential of sorts which can be used to help give your business leverage in the sales process.

    However, the truth of the matter is that there are thousands of competitors in this pool, so getting approval for a contract is kind of like a beautiful face in Hollywood — there are thousands  out there just like you — and you need to put in some serious hard work to stay ahead of the game. In the end, it’s the companies with  grit who put in the most effort and time that stand out and achieve long-term sustainability.

    Here are a few additional resources to assist you:

     Associations & Forums – Federal Executive Boards (feb.gov) – Coalition for Government Procurement (thecgp.org/)

     Conferences – The Excellence in Government Conference (excelgov.com) – GSA Expo (expo.gsa.gov)

     Direct Mail Lists: – Federal Yellow Book Leadership Directory (leadershipdirectories.com) – Dun & Bradstreet (dnb.com) – Amtower & Company (federaldirect.net) – Various readership lists: Many publications will provide you with the readership lists if you advertise in their publications.

     Small Business Administration (SBA) Procurement Marketing and Access Network (Pro-Net) (web.sba.gov/pro-net/search/dsp_dsbs.cfm)

     Publications

    – Armed Forces Journal (magazine, armedforcesjournal.com/)

    – Federal Times (newsweekly, federaltimes.com)

    – Government Executive (magazine, mediakit.govexec.com/)

    – GSA MarkeTips (magazine, gsa.gov)

     Web Sites

    – FirstGov (firstgov.gov)

    – Federal Employment Statistics (opm.gov/feddata)

    – Federal Gateway (fedgate.org)

    – Federal Telephone Directories (usa.gov/Contact/Directories.shtml)

    – FedWorld (fedworld.gov)

     

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