Microsoft Brings Chatbots to Local Businesses via Bing Places

People have been hyping bots for years, especially the past two years. So far they’ve have failed to live up to that hype, especially Facebook Messenger (which carries big expectations). But Microsoft may have just done something that changes all that, especially for SMBs.

The company just launched what it’s calling Microsoft Business Bots through it’s Bot Framework. Right now it’s only available for restaurants. Eventually however most categories of local businesses (and enterprises) will have access to these capabilities.

Bing Bots for SMBs

Here’s how it works: Microsoft automatically creates a bot from the business data input by the business owner into Bing Places. There may also be some additional structured questions. After that, viola, the business has a chatbot. There’s no technical knowledge or skill required — it’s also free.

After the bot is created consumers will see a chat button (above) on the branded “one box” result on Bing. Clicking on “chat” launches a dialogue window in the lower right of the search page in which FAQs and basic business information can be accessed: “How late are you open?,” “Do you take reservations?,” “What forms of payment do you accept?” and so on. Questions that can’t be immediately answered are referred to the business phone number.

Bing bots chat window

The experience right now is pretty basic. However over time it will improve; Microsoft AI is behind the scenes. In the near term capabilities will also include transactions (i.e., booking, payments). And on Bing it has the capacity to make the SERP much more interactive: think “task completion.”

If the bot sees users asking a consistent set of questions it can’t answer, it will solicit the information from the business owner and then use that content for subsequent questions.

Another important and impressive angle is that the bot will work across range of other sites and apps. After creating the bot, the owner simply checks off other channels for deployment. Right now the bot will work on Bing, Skype, SMS and the business owner’s site (with some code). Soon it will also work for Facebook Messenger and Cortana.

For businesses that seek to avoid phone calls or where business could be lost through delayed response to the customer, bots represent an important tool. And while there are a number of firms out there building bots for enterprises there’s nothing comparable for the SMB world, let also something that’s free and requires no skill or additional effort.

While bots for Messenger was expected to accelerate bot adoption and consumer use of bots for business interactions, it may be Bing and Microsoft instead that educate and accelerate the marketplace.

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