Bots in Hangouts Chat: How they can help developers change the conversation

With chatbots growing in popularity, more and more teams are relying on them in the workplace to help them communicate and collaborate faster. As teams that use G Suite increasingly adopt Hangouts Chat as a primary communication method, bots represent an opportunity for developers to deliver unique and impactful experiences directly where users are engaged. In this blog post, I’ll provide a brief overview of what bots inChat are, and what you can do with them.

What are chatbots

Chatbots are computer programs that create human-like interaction experiences  primarily through text or voice commands. You might have encountered one while using chat support on a website.  And you likely ‘talk’ to bots via your favorite smart devices at home or on the go e.g. Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa. 

But why should this trend matter? Both as users and developers, bots present a compelling opportunity to significantly improve the way we collectively work. 

For users, it’s the opportunity to blend conversations with actions, to quickly connect with colleagues to accelerate teamwork, to get more done without switching between work streams and tools, and to stay informed right within a core communication tool.

For developers, it’s an opportunity to build solutions that surface where a growing number of users work more and more, to reduce friction between collaborating and performing tasks, to connect a myriad of back ends and processes directly within a familiar and increasingly popular front end user experience, and to capture user mindshare by connecting to their own apps and services.

Changing the way we work

Messaging apps aren’t new; they have been in the consumer space for many years. But messaging apps, aka chat apps, haven’t always been embraced by the enterprise. This is partly due to the fact that enterprise needs—for example, management controls, security, regulation, data protection, and governance—often supersede what many consumer-centric chat apps offer. It’s also partly because email has been so dominant as the de facto form of collaboration in the enterprise space, resulting in less of a need for chat adoption.

However, that’s changing along with users’ expectations. While email may remain the main source of “record” for work communication, chat has emerged to serve naturally conversational, typically informal, expectantly instantaneous and dynamic team-based communications. And as a result, Chatbots in Hangouts Chat are becoming the new frontier for next generation user interfaces for the better connected enterprise.

Bots in the enterprise

So what does a chatbot in the enterprise look like? While the use cases are virtually unlimited (it’s essentially just a new UI paradigm after all), there are a few common high-level categories bots can deliver broad impact for enterprise users.

Enhancing teamwork—If Hangouts Chat is aimed at making communications more fluid, bots in Chat can ratchet that up by making teams even more productive. A chatbot can speed up actions teams need to perform without switching context. For example, imagine your team chatting about a project you are working on, and collectively you want to review a list of outstanding action items or update completed tasks in real time. Why not just do that in-line conversationally as the discussion flows in chat? Well you can! Users can leverage bots in Hangouts Chat that handle common actions like managing task lists, pulling status reports or updating to-do item ownership, all without switching context to another service or tool. The ability to take action as a team, or even individually like request a vacation day or update your HR info from Chat, is a great way to enhance productivity of everyone across an organization.

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Delivering information—Chat is great for real-time communications between individuals and teams, but it’s also a great way to deliver pertinent information to users without requiring they actively request it or seek it out. Bots can deliver asynchronous notifications that keeps users up to date on topics that matter to them personally, in a format that is easily accessible with a higher probability of being consumed (than say getting lost in email or overlooked on a portal). With users spending more time in Chat, the chance that your information reaches them increases making asynchronous bots really interesting. Here’s just a few ideas that may interest users:

  • Notification of changes to customer opportunities for sales professionals (e.g. Deal Closed! Or Deal Lost!)

  • Warnings about inventory levels or shipping status of products

  • Push updates on milestones for team projects

  • Automated reminders on HR deadlines or policy changes

  • Announcement of new team members (great way to inspire interactive introductions to replace the obligatory, outdated email pushed from managers)

  • Immediate notice of fluctuations in your company’s stock price, or a regularly scheduled update at the close of the trading day

The list is essentially endless and of course varies based on organizational needs. But the common thing about asynchronous bots is that they are easy for users to discover, to opt-in or opt-out, and the entire process can be automated to create a timely, noninvasive, highly efficient channel for connecting users to relevant information.

Connecting systems—If you are a developer or an enterprise technology practitioner, chatbots in Hangouts Chat are ideal for connecting users with your applications. Whether you simply want to enable users to directly query information from your app, update data, or kick off actions and workflows that drive your app(s), bots are a great way to simplify connecting users where they work with your app. Users can reach your apps in context individually or as a team, with a simplified experience from a unified logon to enhanced interaction with natural language commands using driven by Dialogflow. Bots provide a new entry point into your app(s) that will likely increase user reach, engagement and satisfaction with frankly little effort (in most cases—bots aren’t overly complex). 

A number of third party vendors have already built Hangouts Chat bots doing just this and are worth taking at look at for your organization to use or get ideas from. Check them out here.

Looking ahead

This post has been about profiling one of the best kept ‘secrets’ of the G Suite platform. Chat bots aren’t brand new—they were actually available early in the launch of Hangouts Chat itself around mid 2018—but they are totally worth exploring if you haven’t yet.  I personally discovered them first as an ‘excited user’; and now I want to encourage developers to build their own bots. My goal here was to quickly introduce you to the concept of bots though, and of course the details are way beyond this post, so check back here as I cover more about what Hangouts Chat bots can do and how to build them in future posts. 

To learn more, and get started on your own building bots for Google Chat, visit https://developers.google.com/hangouts/chat.