This week we released the first chatbot in Finland with in-chat payments together with Kotipizza. KotiBotti is a Facebook Messenger bot that allows you to order Kotipizza directly from the FB Messenger app.

Let’s clear up misconceptions first: conversational commerce isn’t the text driven exercise in frustration it used to be. For example, Kotibotti is completely menu and button controlled like an app, and doesn’t even understand a single word!

Think of chatbots as apps within an existing popular platform, available on demand and without a separate download.

Initial reactions to KotiBotti have been excellent, and a lot of good discussions have spurred from the release. But like every time before we’ve released a chatbot, there’s been those of you asking: “What’s the point?”

So let me boil down why your company is losing the game if you’re not building a chatbot in 2017.

1. Customers now spend most of their mobile time in chat apps

For years now mobile apps have beaten mobile web usage 9 to 1. And what is the category of apps that dominate our screen time? Chat and social applications, headlined by giants like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Facebook Messenger alone gets a whopping 129 million unique users per month.

And that chat domination shows little signs of stopping. In 2016 the time spent in social and messaging apps grew close to 400% in comparison to last year. According to Yahoo Flurry, messaging apps have more than 5x better 12-month customer retention than other apps.

Numbers still not enough? Here is one more: 9 out of 10 consumers globally want to communicate with brands through instant messages. So the next time in a meeting someone slams down building a chatbot, ask them if your company can afford to go completely against customer expectations.

2. Facebook is seriously pushing for chatbots

Facebook doubled down on chatbots last year introducing a slew of new tools and features for bot developers. The most important is the improved web views that allow you to customize the user interface of your chatbot to a level of quality previously only available in dedicated apps.

Additionally, Facebook ads can now directly trigger a chatbot conversation, users can be retargeted based on chats, and eligible bots get promoted in the Discovery section of Facebook Messenger.

3. Everybody else is busy learning, and you are not

Bots are still early on, but there is a reason why all the big players are getting in: The best way to learn about bots is to build bots. Every time your discussion with a bot stops in a failure or a dead end you are providing massively valuable data to the developers.

Would you know if I asked what services your customers want to access from chat? If you had a bot out there – despite how limited its capabilities – you would already be learning that and more.

So what can you do the get started in the bot game?

  • Read Chatbots Magazine by YC alum Matt Schlicht. It provides an excellent starting point for anyone to understanding bots.
  • Check and Product Hunt and see what other brands and companies have already built. Play around with the most popular bots.
  • Make one yourself. The tools are out there for anyone (even without coding) to create a bot. For managers, try Chatfuel. For designers, check Flow XO. For developers, start poking around the Facebook Messenger Platform documentation.

Make it a priority to offer at least a part of your core services on the biggest chat platforms by the end of the year.

If you’d like to learn more about our experiences (and failures) with building bots, you can drop a line in the comments or get in touch directly. If you are looking to do chat commerce, we can help you get payments set up. Also feel free to disagree with me on Twitter.

At OP Lab we have been actively tinkering with chatbots since last year. We built Pivo Penni, who helped students understand their loans and allowances. For Slush 2016 we introduced Pivo Alfred, a personal finance management bot living inside Pivo. On Tuesday we released KotiBotti, the first conversational commerce bot in Finland, together with Kotipizza.

Article was written by Mats Kyyrö, Head of Discovery team in OP Lab