Chat bots: how will they change the face of marketing?

Anyone who has worked in social media management will tell you that it’s a job that requires a lot of plate-spinning. Of all the responsibilities that fall under this role, community management is one of the more time-consuming (if done properly) and often involves responding to a variety of customers with the same information that, 99% of the time, could be found with minimal research.

Old me would have relished the idea of an actual bot, like Facebook messenger’s, that will one day be able to handle the majority of customer service requests. These bots will not replace customer service departments entirely, but for simple questions – ‘Where can I find your contact details?’ ‘Where are you stocked?’ ‘Does your product contain sugar?’ –  automation should be perfectly adequate. So long as it’s intuitive and personal.

Last week, Facebook messenger executive David Marcus announced that bots “got really overhyped really, really quickly.” Since its launch this April, thousands of businesses have created their own bots. However, the burgeoning technology has left customers’ expectations unfulfilled. Alec Pestov, CEO of collaboration software Meemim, believes that “it will take years before machines are capable of understanding human speech to the degree necessary to correctly process the nuances of conversations.” He argues that the chat bots of right now are nothing more than hype until the second or third generations are released and they find their niche spot.

I agree with him on this – that it will take time for chat bots to reach their full potential. But unlike the unjustified hype of ‘Siri’ that he uses as a comparison, I believe brands will find value in chat bots in the future.

One brand that has demonstrated the potential of chat bots is Everlane. Mobile fashion marketplace Spring’s live messaging and personal shopping service, Spring Bot, partnered with the brand to facilitate online and mobile purchases and answer customer questions. While there is still a human behind the bot at the moment, it shows what the future of e-commerce could look like with improved A.I. technology.

Another benefit of chat bots is their ability to engage with customers outside of the cluttered newsfeed. Sending updates via chat bot can also improve click through rates as The Sun recently proved.

Testing on a small, niche audience the publisher ran a football-related chat bot, delivering news during the transfer window about offers, rumours and rejections. It sent a daily round-up of five of the most important stories at five p.m. to catch the rush hour and then offered readers the chance to subscribe to receive updates from their club – 95% of which did. The number of people subscribed to the chat bot was in the low thousands, but The Sun was aiming for engagement rather than scale. On transfer deadline day, there were 41 team-specific stories and 43% of chat bot subscribers clicked through to the main site. On an average day that month, this was closer to 23%.

This example proves that chat bots don’t need to be used solely for customer service. Serving content in a different way opens up the possibility of capturing new customers.

As for customer service Raj Joneur, CEO of Kore, an enterprise platform for bots that talk to users of software from Salesforce or SAP believes it’s not about replacing but augmenting: “When it gets complicated and you need assistance from a human being, you’ll go to a customer service representative anyway.”

According to Koneru, bots will find just as much use helping employees get their jobs done as they will interacting with customers. While this means a loss of jobs in less relevant areas, companies will be able to take advantage of productivity gains in other areas and create new jobs in research and development.

Streamlining processes, enticing new customers and making the early-decision funnel stickier are all benefits of chat bots and I’m convinced that with advancing A.I. technology, we will all be reaping the rewards in a few years’ time.

By Bella Foxwell


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