All big web shops are already using it: automated customer service in the form of a chat bot. As a customer, you think you’re having a conversation with someone, but in reality, it is a robot that gives logical responses to a series of predefined questions. Only with more complicated questions, the robot can’t answer. For the time being, at least. Because chat bots are becoming ‘smarter’, partly due to companies such as Flow.ai of Sander Wubben, an information scientist from Tilburg.
The fact that Flow.ai is making a serious bid for a part of this billion market is apparent from the recently acquired “Best Fit” rating by MarTech Advisor, located in Silicon Valley. In their ‘Buyer’s Guide to SalesTech Chatbot Building Platforms’, Flow.ai is already in the highest category, above platforms of tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and IBM. With the platform of Flow.ai, companies can easily make smart chat bots and launch them on different channels, such as their own corporate website or Facebook Messenger.
So Flow.ai doesn’t make chatbots but provides the platform and the tools for others to do it. Co-founder Sander Wubben: “Our goal is not to build chat bots, but to make the software available to companies to do it themselves. Think of it as a sort of Photoshop for chat bots: we take care of all the technology, machine learning and hosting, and those companies can focus on building a good chat bot – or conversational agent.”
“Think of it as a sort of Photoshop for chat bots”Sander Wubben, Flow.ai
Clients could be big design or internet agencies, large IT consultants but also small creative agencies or hobbyists. And although the official paid version of the service will only go live somewhere at the end of this month, the first customers have already been found. “APG and Verzekeruzelf are examples of companies that are currently using the platform for their customer service and which are building chat bots”, says Wubben. “And for MediaMarkt, we are building a personal assistant who helps in the purchase process in the store. The huge amount of pre-registration of interested parties from all over the world also gives us confidence.”
Although the market is still young, there are already a lot of active players, start-ups as well as established companies like Google and Microsoft. Wubben: “We distinguish ourselves from the competition because our focus is really on designers. We offer an intuitive interface, and we do not expect our customers to connect all kinds of APIs. Besides, we don’t just focus on English, but also on Dutch, German, French, and Spanish. Also quite important: with us, your data doesn’t end up with the big tech giants like Facebook, Google, IBM or Microsoft.”
Flow.ai was established with the aim to provide access to artificial intelligence and chat bot technology to a wide audience. Flow.ai has won the Startup Challenge that was organized by MediaMarkt in collaboration with Get in the Ring.
Chatbots are seen as the third information wave, following web sites and apps. These days, the younger generations spend more time in social messaging apps than in social media. Especially Millennials are app-tired and are open to the convenience of using all kinds of services through chat. For many companies, this means a new possibility for contact with their customers. Wubben expects the chat bot market to grow from 700 million dollars in 2016 to over 3 billion in 2021.
Flow.ai is located in the Spoorzone in Tilburg at Starterslift and, besides Sander Wubben, consists of Murat Ozmerd and Gijs van de Nieuwegiessen. The three started Flow.ai in 2016 as a spin-off of Wubben’s research on Natural Language Processing at the Tilburg University.