'There's an app for that' to become 'There's a bot for that'

We LOVE to chat. Around 2.5 billion of us around the world have at least one messaging app installed. And messaging apps also get used more often, with users logging in an average of nine times a day.

Chat is also expanding beyond usual conversations. Slack is disrupting the way teams communicate; WeChat is making commerce conversational. But not much has changed in the world of accounting. Yet. How awesome would it be to make running your business as easy as texting?

It’s a shocking fact that 65 per cent of small businesses still rely on Excel spreadsheets or – even more back to basics — good old pen and paper to do their accounts, rather than using built-for-purpose software. So when I joined Sage a few months ago I asked myself, “instead of creating yet another app, what if we gave time poor entrepreneurs a way to run their business using the messaging apps that people already love using?” Because we should come to you, rather than the other way around.

Like talking to a friend

By following that thought-process, we’ve created the first accounting bot for small businesses, start-ups and freelancers. It works with your favourite messaging apps (Messenger, Slack, Telegram… the whole works), and rather than downloading a new app or remembering to login to a website, you talk to the bot like you would to a friend:

“How much did I earn last month?”
“Spent £25 on client dinner last night.”

And, perhaps most importantly:
“Who still owes me money?!”

The bot does all the hard work for you.

While we’re learning, coding and evolving every day to make the product smarter and the language more natural, we are delighted and humbled with feedback so far from our beta users. For example, many have said it’s as easy as talking to a friend, that it didn’t feel like it was an accounting solution, and were pleasantly surprised at the tasks it could perform. One online retailer told us that she felt it was invisible accounting, and would definitely recommend it to others.

Transforming business interaction

One of my favourite bots is ELIZA, ‘the Rogerian bot’. ELIZA first appeared in the 60s. I love how advanced it was for its time, asking users questions and bringing new elements into every conversation. Using almost no information about human thought or emotion, it sometimes provided a startlingly human-like interaction. As a result, it maintains the attention of the user for a long time.

However, for me one of the most exciting things about bots today is that they are changing how we interact with businesses. In the drive to digitise service, many organisations have lost that one-to-one relationship they used to have with customers; a good example is that we no longer have that one bank manager we trust to look after our money, because everything is done online.

Bots give brands the opportunity to bring back that one-to-one relationship, because although they still provide a great digital experience, they also provide that all-important personalized experience that grows and evolves to meet the specific needs of the user, adding far greater value than a website or app.

As my friend Beerud Sheth, the CEO of Gupshup, recently said, bots are the new apps. In the mid ‘90s the browser replaced the desktop OS as the new platform. In the ‘00s websites replaced client applications, and messaging bots will replace mobile apps now. Bot technology is going to have a massive impact on the way we do business. And with many entrepreneurs saying that admin tasks are a big time-waster this is the perfect opportunity to make the bot do it for you.

Image Credit: Palto / Shutterstock

‎Kriti Sharma, Global Director, Mobile Product Management, Sage