March 2, 2017

The Chatbot Revolution

4 minute read

In 2016, experts loudly professed that the next big thing to turbocharge your marketing was to use chatbots. This suggests that 2017 will see experts questioning and pulling apart such forecasts, with a return to a more level-headed realistic evaluation of what they can provide in 2018.

For now, though, we are still in the optimistic phase with great plans for what chatbots can do and the benefits they will provide to us. Thus far, the theory is sound: chatbots are computer programmes ranging in form from the most basic, providing pre-set answers to a set question menu, to more complex forms embodying Artificial Intelligence and are capable of more human interaction. They interact with customers, prospects or end-users in a conversational form – presented either as speech or as text – to service, sell and deliver friendly 24/7 support to the customer experience. They can operate across multiple platforms making them ideal for businesses who have a wide customer base.

They are starting to appear in all sorts of places, some more appropriate than others. According to Rebeca Alamo of Quant Marketing: “The key to making chatbots work for you lies in matching function and format to realistic expectation. At one end of the scale, a chatbot is little more than an automated response mechanism. At the other, when coupled with artificial intelligence and learning algorithms, it does much more. Chatbots can anticipate customer needs and volunteer solutions even before the customer thinks of asking for them.”

A great example of this is the weather, one of the most popular topics of conversation among Brits! Given a simple query about what the weather is likely to be on any given day, a first level response might be a simple statement of the forecast and predicted temperature.

A level two answer might add in obvious extrapolations to the above, such as saying “There is an 80% probability of rain. You should consider taking an umbrella.”

Going a little further and a level three answer might not even require an explicit request for the information. An individual who is researching local days out online will find that their system responds with a conversational nudge from a chatbot, such as “It is likely to be raining this morning. Perhaps you should consider taking an umbrella”.

This broadens the concept of chatbots being used for response and instead places them into the realm of anticipation. In the situation of someone searching for days out the chatbot might further offer, “There is a train departing from your local station in half an hour or I can book you a taxi for £15.”

Rebeca Alamo continues: “Chatbots are the convergence of two technologies. On the one hand, they are about anticipating customer needs through the use of algorithms, presenting visitors to your website with options likely to be of interest. This is a process we are all increasingly familiar with on social media or in search engines.

“Their impact, however, is significantly increased by the fact that their message no longer appears through the formal medium of an onscreen advert, but through informal conversation. This is further enhanced by their ability to integrate analysed customer data to personalise the conversation.

“However, chatbots come with a sting in the tail: get them right and they will enhance the customer experience by offering personal service to all at every hour of the day; but get them wrong and the disconnect between promise and delivery will be instantly obvious”.

That applies both to the conversational aspect of chatbots, and the underlying intelligence. Already, social media has one cautionary tale following the launch of Microsoft’s chatbot Tay which was set loose on Twitter in 2016 with the aim being to learn how to sound like a “millennial”. Unfortunately, it had to be withdrawn after 16 hours after users taught it to tweet offensive phrases, prompting something of a PR headache for the computing giant.

But this is what happens when businesses launch a new service without fully evaluating the risks. Used intelligently, the incorporation of chatbots gives businesses the opportunity to optimise and reinvest their budgets to drastically improve customer experience.

This was certainly the case for Pizza Express, who were already receiving a high volume of booking enquiries through Facebook Messenger. By creating a bot that linked these enquiries to live data on the timings and table availability at local restaurants, Facebook users can now book a table within 90 seconds.

Within the wider customer service industry, the introduction of chatbots in the early stages of the process to handle simpler queries, and direct customers to the person best suited to deal with them, leads to a mutually beneficial experience for customer and business alike. The savings in time and cost allow businesses to restructure their teams, reducing the number of operators, and spending more on higher skilled employees. At the same time, customers spend less time queuing on the phone, or having to explain their needs several times over to different call handlers.

Going forward, the launch of increasingly “intelligent” chatbots will see expectations about their capabilities and the insights about customers you can learn from them increase even more. Chatbots are coming – but for most businesses, the chatbot journey is only just beginning.

If you think a chatbot could aid your business and help with your interactions with customers, then contact us today to find out more.

Posted by Christian Stilwell


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The Chatbot Revolution