Over the past few years, conversational AI chatbots have become part of our personal lives. More importantly, they have become assets in many business workflows, from customer service to marketing. Admittedly, the adoption of this technology has been much slower than the hype would suggest. However, little by little, it’s been attracting more and more interest.

Recently, there have been two factors fueling an unprecedented acceleration in the adoption of conversational technologies.

  • First, the worldwide epidemic that pressured companies to automate and digitalize to keep up with demand.
  • Second, far less dramatic, the no-code movement that opened the door to conversational AI to all.

In this article, I’ll offer an overview of the current state of conversational AI, the no-code movement, and ways the latter is likely to shape the future of this technology.

The State of Conversational AI

Conversational AI is just a peck in the AI universe spreading across the supply chain. Yet, recently it has taken the spotlight. COVID-19 crisis, having shut down call centers and businesses worldwide, showed us that the future of business communication could not do without it. That is even though AI and its user experience are still in its infancy and subject to occasional failures.

The chances are that if you’ve tried interacting with a chatbot before, you’ve had at least one bad experience. However, these failures are not a piece of evidence that creating useful assistants is not possible. It merely shows the nuances and complexities of the task we need to consider.

More importantly, despite these failures, both businesses and consumers are becoming more and more open to the idea of virtual assistants. Thus, when it comes to the future of chatbots, the question isn’t whether or not to make a chatbot but when.

What do the Stats Say?

For instance, even before the world pandemic crisis, Salesforce’s State of Service Report of 2018 revealed that 53% of the surveyed service organizations expected to use AI chatbots, amounting to a 136% growth rate. This is not only because 71% of consumers expect brands and businesses to communicate with them in real-time but also because of the undeniable benefits of conversational automation, such as significant cost savings.

A Word from the Experts…

These tendencies have intensified since the COVID-19 crisis hit the world… Like many others, I also used quarantine to pursue a few projects. One of them was a series of anti-podcasts with experts and seasoned professionals in the area of conversational AI. The topic of discussion was the future of chatbots, and the impact COVID had on the industry. While the options differed from person to person, there was a consensus around two topics:

  • Acceleration of adoption
  • Opportunity for innovation across both the public and private sectors.

Public Sector Is Catching On

For example, Cristina Santamarina from Mediktiv draws attention to conversational AI breaking the ice with the governmental institutions: “…not only chatbot creators and companies but official institutions like governments and city halls and big organizations. WHO went on and created chatbots for different channels.”

Opportunity to Showcase Good Automation

Brandon Fluharty, Strategic Account Solutions at LivePerson, sees the abrupt need for user-conscious automation as a huge opportunity as the shift to conversational AI has exploded: “…we are seeing a huge spike in demand. Obviously, this is, I think, for our industry […] this is a great time to showcase good automation.”

Time to Revision Ecosystems

Lauren Nham, product development manager at Sutherland Labs, too, believes that the supply shock COVID sent through the entire customer support industry opened doors to all things digital and sees it as a huge opportunity for us to use conversational AI and “re-envision what the overall customer experience ecosystem looks like.”

Exposing Outdated Infrusturtes

Chris Messina, technologist most known for the invention of the hashtag, emphasizes how the crisis uncovered that “the existing infrastructure and systems one weren’t really set up for this type of spike” and that services that relied on conventional strategies turned out user-hostile and no longer to meet people where they are at with the demand for speed, simplicity, and personalization.

Getting Comfortable

What’s even more interesting, Roger Kibbe, developer evangelist at Samsung, points out: “… voice application usage has gone way up during COVID-19.” Why? He ventures that voice communication is so inherently social; it has become more attractive in times of isolation.

Or, as Adam Cheyer, the inventor of Siri (Apple) & Viv (Samsung), it might be that the pandemic has broadened the technology comfort of many people and so more individuals are OK using it: “…for the first time, many people are getting comfortable speaking to machines often to people, like we are doing now […] And I don’t think it’s much of a leap now that they are comfortable talking to a computer, now, to start to talk to an automated assistant, not just another human.”

Despite all the shortcomings and challenges, COVID-19 showed us that conversational AI is not just here to stay but to transform and innovate the way we communicate both on a personal and business level.

The No-Code Movement

However, conversational AI is not the only tech taking the spotlight these days. The crisis brought forward another “hero” of the hour, no-code platforms. Thanks to no-code solutions, not only businesses but also communities, NGOs, and individuals could roll out emergency solutions quickly and efficiently at a fraction of the cost in the most significant time of need. And while no-code goes beyond conversational experiences, it was the no-code chatbots and assistants that took to the stage.

What Is No-Code?

Since the age of the internet came about, online tech innovation has strictly in the hands of web developers. That’s bad news since only 0.5% of the world’s population is capable of coding. Furthermore, regardless of how smart these coders are, creating something worthwhile still takes weeks, months, and even years of learning and programming. However, over the past few years, the no-code movement started to change the landscape of innovation.

Today, just about anyone with a laptop and wifi can build and publish a website, an app, or a bot. In a matter of hours or days.

The Cons

Naturally, most developers consider no-code lazy and even cheating.

Yes, there are some drawbacks such as:

  • Limitations – the maker is always limited to what a particular tool can do. They can excel in some areas and lack in others.
  • Learning curve – although it’s no-code, each platform still has its learning curve, which can still be a hindrance if you are in a hurry.
  • Lack of control – what if the tool that has become essential to your business stops offering its services?

And so, coders usually complain about the lack of freedom and control. However, from a business perspective, this argument falls apart. After all, how much freedom do you have under the pressure of cost, time, and labor demands? How much control do you have if you don’t understand the system your business depends on, and each simple change is delayed by the path of command?

The Pros

Thus, to many, no-code is far from being lazy. To the contrary! It’s an opportunity to unlock the automation solutions. Solutions, that would have stayed exiled and exclusive to corporations with large budgets.

Using no-code tools, for instance, to develop conversational assistants allows for:

  • Rapid prototyping – You can get something working within hours or days.
  • Cost efficiency – You can develop sophisticated solutions and workflows at a fraction of the cost when building something similar from scratch.
  • Accessibility – No-code tools have a very low hurdle to get started (cost- and skill-wise)
  • Control – It allows you to make changes, updates, and run maintenance directly, and on the go, no need to wait for someone else to take care of the issue.
  • Direct experience-to-solution translation – with visual no-code tools, you can have your conversational AI assistant designed by people who know best such as your support team, your marketers, or conversation designers who understand what the bot needs to do and how it needs to behave in a specific use-case better than a developer.
  • Learning to think like a developer does – last but not least, these platforms bring coders and no-coders closer together, allowing non-technical people to learn about the “laws” of coding without actually having to deal with code.

Impact of No-Code on Conversational AI

People perceive conversational AI as something too complex, something beyond reach. However, the more it’s being used, the less complicated it’s becoming to build these types of assistants.

Even companies like Samsung or Google are trying to provide developers with as many simplifications as possible. Apart from the tech giants, there is a wide variety of no-code tools and platforms which work hard to empower makers, marketers, businesses, and individuals to design assistants. The result? More and more people are capable of designing bots. Anything ranging from simple data collectors or FAQ bots to incredibly complex conversational workflow managers!

And so, the simplifaction of conversational assistant development is one of the key elements that will shape the future of this industry. Despite its limitations, no-code has the capacity to contribute by:

  • Speeding up Conversational AI Adoption

By lowering the cost of development, labor intensity, and time demands, no-code platforms are making conversational AI more accessible. Smaller companies and even individuals are able to create what was only possible for high-level developers. Hence, no-code movement is likely to play a key role in the adoption of chatbots and conversational AI.

  • Fueling Innovation

Another advantage? No-code opens chatbot development to professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds. Marketers, writers, customers support agents, sales representatives, health professionals, psychologists… In other words, people who think differently and have a varied skillset from your usual developer. Such intermixing of skills is likely to result in innovative ideas that will push conversational AI forward.

  • Breaking the Stigma

Still today, there are stigmas surrounding chatbots and so, standing in the way of wider adoption. “Translating” the code into something simpler and easy-to-understand is likely to help debunk many of these misconceptions. By making something understandable, we not only more likely to forgive mistakes but also to correct them.

Looking Forward

Both conversational AI and no-code movement are here to stay. Better yet, they have the potential to improve each other. And so, open doors to innovative products and workflows that will shape the business for decades to come.

Image Credit: miguel á padriña; pexels

Jiaqi Pan

Jiaqi Pan is the co-founder and CEO at Landbot.io, a no-code communication automation platform. He is a speaker and avid no-coder set on making the world more conversational.