Chatbots Emerge As The First Killer AI App For Businesses

Gene Marks
4 min readApr 26, 2024

The customer service chatbot is where businesses of any size should be leaning in

(This column originally appeared in Forbes)

ChatGPT. Microsoft CoPilot. Google Gemini. Anthropic. LLaMA. Nvidia.

There’s been a lot of attention paid to these products, platforms and companies this year. And fair enough. These AI innovations — and many others — are forming the backbone, the model, the infrastructure for what will be a tidal wave of AI applications in the next few years that will significantly alter the way we do business.

But what about this year? 2024? Where is AI really making a difference? Where is the money being spent and where is the actual return on investment for the businesses spending it? Here’s where: customer service chatbots. If you’re looking to invest in AI for your business, this is where you can make money.

From a business perspective, we’re told that AI software will soon drive autonomous vehicles, operate robots, independently fly drones, spot thieves in stores, make smarter decisions than humans, be sentient. And I believe that this will all one day be true. They will be the killer apps of tomorrow once they’ve been developed, tested, matured, used. But not now. Not today. These AI technologies are still in their most nascent forms.

Today’s killer AI app for business is the customer service chatbot. It’s where the big corporations are spending their money. It’s where software companies are investing. And it’s where businesses of any size should be leaning in.

These are not the pre-2022 chatbots. The ones that needed specific commands and could only respond in very precise, robotic and narrow ways. These were limited, and unfortunately there are plenty of those chatbots around (try filling a prescription with CVS on your mobile device, for example). But that’s changing fast, thanks to generative AI.

Microsoft CoPilot lets us create a presentation faster. Google Gemini can perform faster and more accurate searches. The TSA allows us through their gates with face recognition. My Alexa-driven speaker understands me when I ask for the time. My Xfinity remote can bring up the latest episode of “Curb” on command. All of these are wondrous but — like the Blackberry — will pale in comparison to the AI functions that will soon come tomorrow.

47 percent of corporations responding to a Gartner survey said that they are focusing their AI efforts on “customer facing” activities, by far the highest percentage of all other uses. A March survey of AI decision makers by venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz found that approximately 60 percent of them were using AI for knowledge management and customer service, also the highest usage of any other application. Deloitte reported last year that some 80 percent of contact centers are actively engaging in some stage of AI deployment. Much of these efforts are now starting to see the light of day today and they’re performing like humans. Even better.

For example, I previously wrote about Klarna, the buy-now-pay-later platform that licensed OpenAI’s large language model to build a chatbot that they claim does the work of 700 customer service reps. Bank of America says its chatbot called Erica has surpassed 1.5 billion interactions. Starbucks has deployed its new chatbot to help customers choose and order coffee. Marriott’s AI-powered virtual concierge provides a voice-enabled chatbot that even fooled me the last time I called to book a dinner reservation. This is AI being deployed right now and for big ROI. And big companies are spending big bucks — as much as $18 million per enterprise this year — for mostly chatbot driven AI customer service applications. And that’s just from a survey of about 70 companies. All told, companies are spending billions on AI chatbots.

When big companies spend this kind of money, the technology itself ultimately becomes commoditized, costs fall and smaller organizations are able to take advantage. And that’s exactly what’s happening with chatbots in the customer relationship and service management space.

Within just the past two years software leaders like NICE, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Zendesk and even marketing platform HubSpot have announced their own or partnered with AI driven chatbot functionality that allows their small and mid-sized customers to answer queries, analyze data, predict outcomes, suggest products and services, train and advise human reps and overall get answers faster to their customers than ever before.

The general public doesn’t have (or at least we don’t have access) to AGI -Artificial General Intelligence — technology that literally gives consciousness, feeling and human understanding to inanimate objects. Our AI today is still in its very early, rudimentary stages.

However, the one mature area of AI that has proven ROI in the real world is the customer service chatbot. So if you’re a business owner or manager looking to make investments in AI this year, my recommendation is to start there.

Originally published at



Gene Marks

Columnist on smallbiz, economy, public policy, tech for The Guardian, The Hill, Philly Inquirer, Wash Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur. Small Business owner and CPA