WeChat goes West

If you want to do business in China, you better have a WeChat strategy. Equal parts chat app, digital wallet and web browser (not to mention national ID system), WeChat’s ubiquity in China has been well-documented.

But now WeChat is looking to extend its influence beyond the borders of mainland China.

WeChat, will travel 🗺

The Tencent-owned messaging app boasts around 1 billion users, second only to Facebook’s WhatsApp. But unlike WhatsApp’s global user base, WeChat’s is almost exclusively Chinese.

This week the company announced that instead of trying to make inroads into the Chinese diaspora, it would focus on a lower-hanging fruit: Chinese tourists in popular international destinations.

Chinese travellers spent roughly $115 billion outside China last year, according to the South China Morning Post. And WeChat isn’t the only company that wants their business.

China-ready 🇨🇳

Cities around the world are rolling out the red carpet.

In Canada last year, the cities of Montreal and Toronto forged partnerships with an investment group called OTT Financial to help bring WeChat Pay and its rival Chinese payment service, Alipay, to local businesses.

Now The Boston Globe reports that local businesses, from hotels to supermarkets to luxury retailers, are making it easier for Chinese tourists to pay with their homegrown apps.

The Boston tourist bureau hosted a “China-ready” conference in December and hopes to attract more Chinese tourists to the city, which already welcomes more than a quarter million Chinese visitors per year:

“We turn each of those Chinese visitors into salespeople for Boston when they’re back home on their phones and WeChat and social apps, talking about their experience. You are basically activating 262,000 salespeople.”

AI-powered chatbot outperforms human doctors

A London-based startup is claiming its chatbot is smarter than most med-school graduates.

The AI-powered chatbot achieved a score of 81% on a version of the final exam used to accredit doctors in the U.K., according to Babylon, the company behind it. The average grade for human doctors is 72%.

While some doctors are skeptical of Babylon’s results, the company is part of a larger movement to revolutionize healthcare through conversational technology.

A conversation a day… 🍏

In 1966, MIT launched one of the first chatbots ever. ELIZA was designed to simulate a psychotherapist and its creators hoped it could help doctors treat patients.

Since then, dozens of medically-inclined bots have been developed to do everything from remind us to take our pills, fight Crohn’s disease and help with breastfeeding.

In addition to the chatbot, Babylon’s app provides video consultations on demand with a network of 250 doctors who work for Babylon full time.

Babylon can also refer customers to visit its doctors at one of six clinics in London, but only 15% of patients see a doctor in person, according to a Forbes profile of Babylon’s colorful founder, Ali Parsa:

“In the same way Uber is building self-driving cars to replace drivers, he wants fewer people seeing doctors on video and more getting their problems resolved by Babylon’s clever chatbot.”

Bot me workin’ day and night ⏱

Many businesses turns to chatbots to save costs, but Britain’s National Health Service pays Babylon about $80 per patient per year, the same it pays a general practitioner.

However, roughly a third of video consultations happen outside of normal working hours. Babylon says many patients would visit a hospital emergency room instead, which costs the government $130 per visit.

Meanwhile, in North America, a startup called ProNavigator is helping insurance companies and brokers deploy chatbots to solve a similar business problem. Roughly 30% of inquiries and quote requests come in during evenings and weekends, when most offices are closed.

Embedding a chatbot on their websites and Facebook Messenger has helped some brokers and insurers generate 30% more leads, according to CEO Joseph D’Souza:

“Nobody wants to fill out a web form just to wait for someone to get back to them.”

Can a chatbot turn your salesforce and customer support team into a 24/7 operation? Check out my feature on ProNavigator and how it’s disrupting the insurance industry through chat.