The future of chatbots in marketing

One of the hottest topics of 2017 is going to be the use chatbots in marketing.

Marketers are fast adopters of new trends so it is natural that two are going to collide. As Freid in Rework correctly identified “marketing is everything”. As chatbots become a commonplace feature of websites and support services, they too will become part of marketing:

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So what is a chatbot?

A chatbot is a piece of smart software that answers questions. You can install a simple piece of chatbot software into your website. Facebook Messenger is an example of a platform that integrates with chatbot software. In the last 6 months over 30,000 chatbots have been developed for Facebook Messenger.

For example, you may sell shoes. A customer may want to know when you are going to get the next delivery of size 7 leopard print heels in. The chatbot can identify the corresponding products and provide the information.

Will they live up to the hype?

Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft claims that “chatbots are the new apps”. If this is true then chatbots look to fundamentally change our online experience.

A good chatbot should be indistinguishable from a human interaction. This is the ideal. We have seen the challenges of delivering a fully virtual service. Tina whilst touted as a virtual PA is actually managed by real people whilst the software catches up. This hybrid approach is quite common whilst the technology catches up to the vision.

Chatbots will become more sophisticated. Designed to learn from previous interactions they need to gather data to get good. Given the vast improvements in data management and analysis, the chatbot vision seems attainable. Many service level companies rely on scripts to guide workers. Think about the disaster of NHS direct. This was an automated process based on responses. It cut out human knowledge and interaction and worked on the data of probable outcomes. Sophisticated chatbots would be able to do a better job.

Chris Messina, the hashtag creator, says that “2016 is the year of conversational commerce”. Whilst we are set for changes, 2016 is nearly over and conversational commerce isn’t yet commonplace. There is a move towards this trend. But we aren’t there yet. This is the beginning and there will be interesting developments in 2017.

How will they help?

For users,  chatbots will improve the experience. No matter how well the UX of a website is, there are times where information is missing, or your question not quite answered. Chatbots will be on hand to help with queries. No more waiting on hold for hours. You will be able to What’s App the company and get a reply. For anyone that has wasted a morning on hold, this is a revelation.

From a marketing perspective, all this data is going to be gold. This is live user feedback on your website. What else could you want to drive systematic improvements? If 90% of requests are for a particular product in gold you have a great indication of customer needs. You also have an immediate marketing touch point to promote when ready. Frequent questions about a product/service feature will guide your web copy or advertising.

Companies are struggling to respond to customer enquiries over social media.

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This is a stark contrast to the customer expectation which is often cited at 4 hours. The combination of chatbots and messaging services will help both customers and companies.  Facebook Messenger is used by 11% of the world’s population and What’s App is used by over 1 billion people. Chatbots will help because users are already familiar with the technology.

Chatbots and marketing

Who owns the data? Will Facebook sell it on? Potential matches for queries and CRM merges?

Habito is an “AI digital mortgage advisor” guiding you to the perfect mortgage using multiple choice questions.  If a bank were to operate a similar bot they would be able to gather thousands of data points on queries. This could lead to the development of niche mortgages that could use highly targeted marketing. Companies already strive to capture this information through online forms. But they need to attract the traffic and then attain the all-important email address. Social media marketing is increasing in popularity and this could be the next step. You’ve already shared who you are using your Facebook ID or phone number. Even if the process isn’t completed the data is already there.

What about data and privacy?

All chatbots should have clear privacy agreements. This currently isn’t the case. Also, a large volume of chatbot activity is like to be through Facebook-owned software (Messenger and What’s App). Given that Facebook’s ad revenues were over $17 billion last year, this may represent a conflict of interest for data privacy.





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