Building and maintaining customer relationships used to be as simple as assigning a personable, responsible account rep to handle questions or concerns. Not anymore.
Calls and emails into a contact center are effectively being replaced with a slew of social-media options perfect for immediate – and very public – responses to customer inquiries. Over the past decade or so, Facebook changed the customer-engagement game with its creation of Facebook Pages. Twitter feeds quickly followed as a preferred way to communicate with brands across the spectrum, and social customer care was born.
Now, the game is changing again – this time with a little help from artificial intelligence, or AI. Businesses continue to evolve their models to meet customers where they live, which has led forward-thinking and savvy companies to explore chatbots for messaging platforms.
More than 11,000 bots came online soon after Facebook released a bot-development platform for Messenger. Since then, bots have proliferated across other messaging media like Kik, WhatsApp, Slack, Snapchat, and Skype. The numbers are staggering. And with messaging apps already surpassing social-media networks in popularity, those figures will continue to climb.
All of this prompts the question: “Does my business need a bot?”
Yes, your business needs a chatbot
Gartner projects that more than 85% of customer interactions will be managed without a human by 2020, and chatbots are also expected to be the No. 1 consumer applications of AI over the next five years, according to TechEmergence.
If those numbers don’t sway you, then perhaps this will: Your competitors are already on board with bots and using them to build an army of loyal, engaged customers through interactive self-service and innovative relationship-building programs.
For example, Taco Bell’s TacoBot lets customers order on Slack chat. The beauty-brand giant Sephora lets customers skip a trip to the store by fulfilling makeup orders on the messaging app Kik. And Ticketmaster customers can now use a new website chat widget – built on the Chatbot Development Platform from Inbenta, a pioneer in natural language processing, or NLP, and AI technologies for customer support and enterprise e-commerce – to ask questions regarding their order or learn about other events of interest through the automated recommendations function.
Examples of creative bot use abound, and businesses not willing or able to get ahead of the trend risk losing otherwise loyal customers to more dynamic, inventive competitors.
How to integrate chatbots into your business
A chatbot’s utility is limited only by your own creativity and imagination. But if you’re looking for a simple, sensible way to use one, then customer-support messenger bots offer one of the best entry points for any business.
NLP technology allows your business to create custom bots that take on your brand’s personality and voice by leveraging existing communication systems and your knowledge base to connect directly with customers in their everyday, informal language. You can use the bot for everything from helping a customer reset a password or getting an updated account balance to finding a specific discount item on your site.
Providing customers with a personalized chat experience – even without a live agent on the other end – can help a business stand out and, more important, create new opportunities to transform repeat customers into influential advocates and evangelists.
With the rise of the mobile, always-on consumer, it is easier than ever for customers to demand immediate responsiveness from brands. Companies are expected to deliver fast, reliable customer service across channels and are under pressure to incorporate new tools and processes to engage with customers wherever they are.
Fielding messages into traditional help desks has historically resulted in longer wait times and a disorganized messaging experience for support representatives. Enter the chatbots. Chatbots assist in solving simple, quick-response needs, leaving more time for customer service representatives to focus on complex customer demands and high-touch interactions.
In recent years, bot-enhanced customer support use has increased, due in part to new technology that allows businesses to easily identify and resolve customer problems through messaging services. As bots continue to grow in popularity, experts speculate whether the automated technology has arrived or still has a long journey ahead. While that debate will likely continue for some time, here are a few things companies should keep in mind as they invest in bot-enhanced support.
Bots are a-changin’
Bot development has changed a lot since the mid-2000s, when virtual assistants in Live Chat were all the rage. Back then, customer questions were answered by pulling from a predetermined directory of responses. Naturally, these responses were oftentimes unhelpful and out of context. Studying those first bot interactions has led to advancements in intelligent technology, making way for developments in natural language understanding (NLU) which seeks to understand the intent behind questions. Paired with advancements in artificial intelligence (A.I.), today’s technology is helping bots “think” rather than regurgitating pre-assigned answers. Furthermore, A.I. powers tools such as “deep learning,” which analyzes public customer information and helps customize bots for ultimate customer service.
Twitter was one of the first platforms to embrace social messaging for business-to-consumer (B2C) communication. Now we’ve seen companies such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft open their platforms to bot and app developers. With the public showing signs of “app fatigue,” the hope is that chatbots will provide a gateway for brands seeking to engage customers on a more personal level. While the technology is far from perfect, these are exciting advancements in customer services.
Bots and humans: the perfect relationship
The ideal customer service offering combines the power of bots and humans. The bottom line: When a customer reaches a point of frustration, an automated response just won’t do. There will inevitably be some situations that bots simply aren’t trained for. Businesses will have to choose the right use cases for automation and build in the right handovers, or escape hatches, to let customers talk to human operators when it’s sensible to do so.
Human responses are essential in training bots to answer the “tougher” questions. Interactions between representatives and customers provide a loop of responses for bots to learn from. The support products of the future will alert human operators when the A.I.’s confidence level is low. By taking over in those situations, the human agents will not just assist the customer, their responses will also help the A.I. learn. Over time, this knowledge will organically help to expand the bot’s capabilities.
Keep in mind, however, that bots are still just that… bots. Those with human-like personalities (e.g. Siri), while entertaining, can be downright frustrating if they deliver limited functionality. Leveraging bots as a means to enhance the customer experience could be the best way to manage customer expectations and ensure stronger customer relationships, but the key is designing a bot flow that gives customers the option to reach a real person, if that becomes necessary.
All bots are not created equal
When it comes to deploying the right chatbot for your business, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Companies have to ensure that the bots they integrate have the scale, technology, and intelligence to handle their specific tasks. As with all customer service interactions, it’s critical to understand the user’s intent to best support their needs. This may take more than the simple automated responses that a lower-tech bot can provide and may require a messaging platform that is integrated with customer records and leverages powerful automation, analytics, and integrations.
Messaging is viewed as the customer communication channel of the future because it’s more immediate than email, yet more convenient than calling a company or going to the website to live chat. Whether deploying tools to help streamline questions for a small business or providing around-the-clock service for an international corporation, bots must be able to deliver fast response times and manage high volumes of conversations.
Today, customers require increasing levels of personalization. For some companies, this first stage of bot-enhanced support has allowed them to reach customers where they are. Amex bot for Facebook Messenger, for example, lets consumers see real-time purchase alerts and key information about American Express benefits — bringing personalized and proactive support right to their devices.
While this phase of bot technology is certainly a step in the right direction, there is still so much more to learn. With an understanding of the rapidly changing technology, a focus on providing a human element, and a plan for deploying chats at scale, the future of chatbots for your business is bright.
Even in the age when every other business is reaping the benefits of social media, the ecommerce sector remains ignorant on how to make optimum use of social media platforms. Rather than using these platforms for interacting like a normal user, the ecommerce sector uses it to constantly promote its products, services, and offers.
Many retailers do not see anything wrong with this approach.
But customers do not want to follow brands that constantly bombard promotional posts, which are no less than advertisements on their social media feeds. Brands are becoming more faceless than ever by implementing such marketing strategies, which do not realize the need to get more personalized when it comes to customer experience.
Even when the sales of online stores surpassed the sales achieved in brick-and-mortar stores, there was a thing about brick-and-mortar stores, which wasn’t quite carried over to online stores – customer support.
But now, there’s a ray of hope – brands can now offer more personalized shopping experience to its customers using chatbots. A chatbot that resides on messaging platforms can become the face of any ecommerce company, and can handle customer interaction, customer support, as well as manage customer relationships.
As stated by Shopify, chatbots can help consumers make a purchase decision on behalf of ecommerce sites, when they are not sure what they need to buy. Chatbots can also upsell and cross-sell by recommending different products on the basis of a customer’s previous purchases. Ecommerce can rely on this interactive interface to personally handle customer objections and get customer feedback so as to improve their services, which will consequently increase customer satisfaction. Companies can offer better service to its customers by notifying them about latest offers and enabling them to track their shipments once the order is placed. Bots can also know what customers are looking for and can notify customers once “out of stock” products are available again. In addition to all that, ecommerce businesses can use chatbots for promoting their brand by giving their chatbot a personality that goes with their brand image.
Recently, messaging applications have significantly attracted users, so much so that messaging apps are considered the new platforms and chatbots are considered the new apps. The term “conversational commerce” has been coined to show how chatbots can help businesses as an interactive interface.
A lot of companies like Facebook, Slack, Telegram, Skype, and even Apple and Amazon have declared their platform as a medium for chatbot interaction. The reason why messaging applications are gaining attention is because user penetration of messaging apps is projected to exceed by 68% by the end of 2019, according to eMarketer. Smartphone owners around the globe are less willing to download an individual application when they have an alternative to reach a business via messaging apps.
Chatbot development companies can increase customer touch points for retailers, helping them to raise brand awareness and establish a loyal customer base. As stated by Gartner, Natural-Language Question Answering (chatbots) is coming faster than expected. The AI-powered bots are expected to emerge in the ecommerce and retail sector by mid-2017. It is assumed that by 2018, if companies don’t feel the need to make chatbots an integral part of their business, their sales will suffer.
Wouldn’t it be great if you can simply ping your favorite brand on Facebook Messenger and know about their latest collection? Not just that, you can also get a recommendation on what styles you would like the most and if you can get a discount on your purchase. Finally, chatbots can make that possible.
When Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) introduced chatbots in messaging platform very first time in April this year, the internet was buzzed with debate, discussion and potential of chatbots in the future. It was the very first time when people noticed the existence of chatbots and started exploring various use case of integrating chatbots in applications. Fast forward 6 months, as the industry is apparently looking ready to embrace chatbots, nearly 80% of companies have already used or planned to use chatbots by 2020, according to the latest report from BusinessInsider.
Chatbots have a variety of definitions on the internet. Essentially, they are software programs, powered by artificial intelligence, with a messaging interface facilitating interaction with users. They have the ability to perform any task, from scheduling a meeting to ordering a product online.
Chatbots have a deep learning technique, where they utilise a natural language processor, machine learning and pattern recognition. They put these data together to understand the user’s intentions, and accordingly take appropriate actions.
BusinessInsider reports that most of these businesses plan on using chatbots for services like sales, marketing, and customer service. 42% of the said companies believe that automation in these services will improve the ease of the customer. The report is based on a survey of nearly 800 executives and officials from France, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the UK.
Incorporation of chatbots in these areas will cut down the labour costs, resulting in savings. However, it is impossible to completely eliminate the human intervention as of yet.
Annually, in the US, $79 billion is dished out to customer service representatives. Chatbots could replace 29% of these representatives resulting in nearly $23 billion savings annually, without adding other benefits. Nearly 29% in savings!
Similarly, chatbots could result in $15 billion savings in the salaries of sales representatives as well as securities, commodities and financial service representatives. Chatbots could also save more than half the annual expenditure in salaries for insurance sales representatives.
Of the companies surveyed, 48% said that they already employ chatbots and automation tools for their sales, marketing and customer services, while 40% will implement automated technology by 2020.
Why Businesses Need Chatbots
Business Insider reported that nearly 44% of US consumers would like to utilise chatbots for customer service as long as the companies can ensure smooth customer experience. Reports also suggested that nearly half the US population between the age of 18-55 years have already utilised a chatbot and are familiar with it. Also, more than 37% of Americans would be willing to make a purchase through chatbot interfaces.
Important statistics say that 51% of consumers would like businesses to be available 24/7, 45.8% preferred to contact the business via messages rather than emails, and 49.4% preferred messaging over calls. Chatbots can be available anytime, can easily deliver through messaging apps. This, in turn, means that customers will not have to deal with emails or calls anymore. Also, consumers are losing interest in social media platforms. This is evident from the top 4 messaging apps that have already overtaken social media apps.
A majority of the population spends time on messaging apps than anywhere else. Chatbots, thus, provide an easy, innovative and convenient channel for advertising directly to the consumer via a messaging interface, without even disrupting the user’s messaging experience.
Demand for Chatbots
All of these factors have given rise to a demand for chatbots, not just from high-end tech companies, but also from startups and SMBs. Brands and B2C businesses can achieve their dream marketing goals by incorporating bots into their apps and services.
Businesses can utilise Bots-as-a-Service native content, affiliate marketing and retail sales for incorporating chatbots. Further, bots can also be used for research, lead generation, customer service and other services. As Business Insider’s report already stated, using chatbots will also reduce the annual expenditure of salaries.
Digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Now respond and react to voice signals. But chatbots only respond to text inputs through messaging.
Facebook, Microsoft and Google are competing against one another to build chatbots incorporated in messaging apps. Facebook launched M, its virtual assistant in August last year. It now incorporates many bots into its Messenger app, that provide services to the users while messaging.
Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) launched its newest AI chatbot, Zo, yesterday. Google too, is working on a messaging app with artificial intelligence. Microsoft’s Xiaoice went live in 2014 and now has over 40 million users in China.
Not just these high-end companies, but Sephora, Dominos, HP, 1-800-Flowers, and CNN have already deployed bots on their respective apps. Facebook also announced in April that third party chatbots will be allowed on its Messenger platform. Microsoft had already released its Bot Framework in March, a tool for developers to build their own customised bots.
Potential of Chatbots in the Future of Marketing:
Chatbots have consistently appealed consumers and are touted as the future of marketing for B2C consumers. The reasons are obvious:
Chatbots appeal to the younger demographic, have a global presence and an attractive and appealing nature to the rest of the audience. As already stated, consumers can easily use chatbots via messaging apps.
Since users interact with the chatbot with a conversation, it builds a rapport that is more effective than any picture or video ad. Users understand the brands better, and marketers achieve the essential aim of advertising.
Since users converse directly with the bot, the bot can remember the personal choices of the users. Thus, it can offer a customised feel to the users.
Ads are impersonal to the general population. But bots can offer a customised and personalised advertising to each user. They can retain the knowledge of the user’s preferences and display ads accordingly.
As already mentioned, chatbots can replace customer service personnel. Therefore, customer service representatives can focus more on monitoring the chatbot and intervening only when needed.
Chatbots can offer a wide range of services, from ordering flowers, booking appointments, movies, searching the web, and much more, all in one place. Users need not have to refer to multiple apps for all these services.
Industry Research firm Gartner reports that by 2017, only one-third of the overall customer service interactions will require human efforts. Chatbots seem to be the face of a new era in technology.
Chatbots Technology Really Advanced Yet?
But will this technology be efficient and improve in the course of time? Or will they turn out to be more disasters like Microsoft’s Tay?
In March this year, Microsoft unveiled their first chatbot, Tay on Twitter, GroupMe, and Kik. Tay was supposed to be an experiment for Microsoft in “conversational understanding“. The chatbot, however, became the scapegoat for pranksters on Twitter and started Tweeting obnoxious and racist comments. In the end, it was a mess left for Microsoft to clear up. Microsoft’s next, Zo, is reportedly a clean filter chatbot. But it remains to be seen how clean Zo is!
Chatbots could be a huge asset for B2C companies, especially those with customer interactions. But, chatbots on B2B supports is an impossible idea at this moment. B2B companies have to be careful with each of their clients, as they have high value. Taking risks with a chatbot is not an option for them. As of now, only B2C companies can take advantage of chatbots.
Chatbots and messaging apps are revolutionizing the future of marketing.
Marketing in the 2000s was dominated by Search Engine Marketing and Optimization (SEM and SEO). The early 2010s saw the rise of Facebook and social media marketing. Most recently we’ve seen mobile marketing rise and plateau as users have stopped downloading new apps. Now, we are entering the era of messaging.
What is a “chatbot”? Chatbots are computer programs that carry out conversations with people using lightweight messaging app UI, language-based rules, or artificial intelligence. Chatbots converse with users using natural language (either voice or text) rather than than traditional website or app user interfaces.
Why are chatbots suddenly so important? Consumer behavior has shifted from social networks to messaging platforms such as SMS, Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage, Slack, and WeChat. The growth of the four largest messaging apps exceeds that of the four largest social networks.
A new marketing channel is an exciting opportunity to experiment with fresh ad formats and connect with consumers in novel ways. Businesses also enjoy fewer companies competitors, less ad fatigue, and potentially exponential returns on marketing investment dollars (ROI).
Companies are now creating bots for Slack, Amazon Echo, Facebook Messenger, Kik, and SMS to talk directly to users. Bots range from recommending outfits (H&M), giving beauty tips (Sephora), direct ordering (Dominos and 1–800-Flowers bots), and much more.
Here are the four critical ways chatbots are transforming marketing and how businesses can capitalize on the current conversational trend.
TRUE ENGAGEMENT BEYOND CLICKS
In traditional online advertising, we call a click of an ad or play of a video “engagement”. Engagement with a chatbot, on the other hand, is an active conversation with a user.
Disney created the Officer Judy Hopps bot on Facebook Messenger to tease their audience and drum up excitement prior to the movie’s release. Instead of passively watching a movie trailer, users joined Judy on a detective hunt and experienced her interactive story first-hand. Engagement was astronomical — users spent more than 10 minutes on average talking to the character and countless users restarted the conversation to replay a different scenario.
Conversation and rapport building is significantly more effective than a simple ad or video view. The interaction leaves users with an entertaining experience, a better understanding of the brand, and a positive emotional feeling— takeaways rarely achieved with traditional ads.
INSIGHTS DIRECTLY FROM USERS
Users converse directly with chatbots just like they do with their family and friends.
In this highly personal and conversational setting, chatbots can ask questions too intrusive to be in traditional ads. Questions such as “Where do you live?”, “What music do like?”, “Where’s your dream travel destination?” or even “What do you think of the latest Geico commercial?” are socially acceptable and even welcome in chatbot interactions.
Businesses can remember and refer to personal information in future conversations to further customize a user’s experiences. Victoria’s Secret PINK bot recommends specific styles of bras based on answers to an initial questionnaire. Wingstop’s bot suggests new spicy offers to hot spice fanatics. In practice, brands must strike a responsible balance between personalization and privacy.
MAXIMUM OPPORTUNITIES FOR PERSONALIZATION
Ads have become more targeted over time. Brands are always seeking ways to appeal to users personally, whether through programmatic display ads, retargeting, or direct mail.
With chatbots, brands can personalize a conversation to the individual. Sephora’s chatbot on Kik shares beauty tips with teenagers. The bot first inquires what users are interested in learning about — eyes, skin, hair, nails, etc. — and only suggests relevant products, beauty tips, and tutorials. The Hello Hipmunk bot on Skype works with group chats. Travelers can plan trips with friends and family without ever having to leave the chat room.
BRING A BRAND PERSONALITY TO LIFE
Brand identity is usually pushed to users in a single direction — banner ad, videos, billboards, etc.
A branded chatbot becomes a “live entity” that can infuse personality into conversations. Disney’s Miss Piggy bot is funny and sassy while Universal Studio’s Laura Barns Unfriended bot is an angsty and foul-mouthed. The TMY.GRL bot from Tommy Hilfiger allows fashionistas to access exclusive behind-the-scenes fashion content. A company can show, rather than tell, their brand story to their audience.
Traditional ads are“pushed” upon an unwilling or apathetic viewer, while chatbots “pull” users to engage with them. Strategically implemented and well-designed chatbots can tell your brand story, re-engage audiences, facilitate commerce, and grow your business.