Committee Corner: Are Chatbots Here to Stay?

Lindsey Carnett

Chatbots are among the most exciting new technological tools available for marketers. A computer program that uses deep learning to simulate conversation and automates certain tasks, a chatbot has the characteristics of a virtual assistant, and its construction is similar to that of iPhone’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa.

Chatbots are taking on real human support agents and using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to find the appropriate response that a customer requires. Bots have the ability to quickly search through a large amount of information to choose the best and most appropriate answer for the user, and with 1.4 billion consumers using messaging apps in 2015, the technology offers a golden opportunity for brands to integrate it into their operations. 

Research from Forrester shows 5 percent of companies worldwide said they were using chatbots regularly in 2016, while 20 percent were piloting them, and 32 percent were planning to use or test them in 2017. 

A chatbot has two functions: informational and problem solving. The latter can be used to action requirements such as rectifying a shopping need, booking a meeting, or notifying a user of an important deadline. The former can be utilized to inform the customer of valuable content such as a breaking news story. 

Bots importantly encourage interactive communication with the customer. Consumers prefer to use online chat functions as they help to resolve problems quickly, provide a written or digital record of communication, and are convenient — with no need to download an additional app. 

Many companies have already begun to incorporate chatbots into their businesses, and restaurants and retail outlets are using chatbots to encourage customers to order food, select pickup locations, pay online, and inform them of order readiness.

Facebook is utilizing chatbot technology, with consumers able to pay or order products on the platform. Facebook’s experimental Messenger bot has similarities with Siri, but when a request cannot be fulfilled, a human representative invisibly and seamlessly takes over to handle your question.

Bots are being used as a form of     real-time automated marketing and advertising. Conversational commerce marries the two worlds of messaging apps and shopping. The concept involves businesses interacting with their customers through messaging apps, chat, or voice technology to sell their products.

Many brands, like Amazon Echo, have already embraced this trend, including the option to talk to customer service via a simple instant messenger when a problem arises with an order. Other companies are using conversational commerce and chatbots together to remind customers of what they already love by offering a way to order what they want through this functionality.

Additionally, bots can be used to collect information and direct people to the correct phone number or website for more specific additional support. With the capability to open in a browser or on a smartphone, the user doesn’t have to switch devices or alter their location. The technology can also connect consumers to forums or social sites to join like-minded community members, scaling up problem solving and refining user experience.

B2B marketers are also capitalizing on the power of chatbots. In the health care space, companies are helping consumers better understand available benefit packages and what financial services make sense for their situation. In the financial services sector, the technology is proactively assisting financial advisors with cost saving and investment bots used by banks and fintech to reduce costs and eliminate the risk of potential human errors.

What does the future look like for chatbots? From scheduling outbound calls with telemarketers to answering questions or processing hot leads ready for call center agents to close, chatbot technology is creating many exciting and revenue-generating opportunities for brands. Contact centers are currently exploring this functionality and what it can do for direct-to-consumer marketers.

For a bot to be successful, brands and their marketing teams must understand interactions the audience is already having with their products and services, as well as the chat interface in a way that creates maximum impact with minimal fuss. The best bots harness the micro-decisions consumers experience on a daily basis and see them as an opportunity to help. Whether it’s adjusting a reservation, updating the shipping information for an order, or giving medical advice, bots provide a solution when people need it most.