If you’ve ever asked your smartphone a question like “what’s the weather going to be like today?” or issued a command such as “set an alarm for an hour from now,” and marvelled at the device’s ability to respond and take action, you’ve used a chatbot. The experience is engaging, fun and helpful. That’s why many of the world’s most recognizable brands like CNN, Domino’s Pizza and H&M are investing heavily in creating bots to build customer loyalty. Yes, the artificial intelligence (AI) technology behind the friendly voice is complex and expensive to develop. But that should not preclude small businesses from leveraging chatbots to create new levels of customer engagement and service.
Users typically access chatbots in messenger apps and communications platforms like WeChat, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, Kik, Slack, and Skype. Users type or ask a question, and the chatbot responds with the right information. Just as important as the ability to understand the context of a user’s question or command is the ability to “learn” from that interaction so it can offer more personalized information the next time. For example, if you ask a chatbot for recommendations for a local restaurant, it will analyze volumes of data so it can be proactive in suggesting restaurants that match your preferences the next time you’re out and about.
Chatbots are relatively new to the marketing technology scene, and their arrival could not come at a better time. Traditional digital advertising tactics that provide only one-way interactions – from brand to customer – are becoming less effective. Brands push messaging, offers or services to users, but that should just be step one. Moving beyond the one-time interaction and creating an avenue for back-and-forth engagement is the key to building long-term customer relationships.
Conversational bots enable you to communicate the value of your brand to a vast audience, but do so via one-on-one conversations that make users feel like you’re tailoring those interactions to their individual likes and needs. They feel empowered by having command of ongoing interactions that more closely resemble two-way conversations. They can conduct research, ask questions, make a purchase, request help and share experiences with friends.
Email may still be King of the Marketing Hill, but chatbots are proving to be much more effective at getting your brand and messaging in front of customers, and more importantly, getting them to engage with you.
According to MailChip’s February 2017 report on Email Stats, the open rate of email campaigns range from 16% to 27%. In contrast, chatbots deployed on messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger boast an open rate over 90%. Even better, the user typically opens and reads a message within five minutes. Think about how you interact with email compared to messaging clients. It’s a good bet you don’t open every single email as soon as it hits your inbox. But when you receive a notification from Facebook Messenger, chances are you read and respond within a few minutes.
Another key difference between email and chatbots is how users consume a message. Emails show all messaging in one window, and frequently include links to web sites that force you to leave the email app. Chatbots show only a bit of information at a time, so the interaction more closely resembles an exchange you have with a friend in your network. The ability for a chatbot to engage with your customers in “conversational commerce” is a key reason why chatbots have a higher stickiness factor than email.
Behind the Curtain
Of course, most small businesses do not have the massive budgets or teams of software engineers necessary to develop their own chatbots. All good AI implementations require the the ever-growing volumes of customer information businesses collect, and investment in technologies that enable the AI to analyze all that data. Additionally, chatbots requires effective natural language processing and neural networks to “understand” and process the context of a user’s question or command.
That’s where partnering with a company like Botworx can help. We have developed a bot platform that allows brands to use chatbots and messaging services not just for customer service and retention, but for acquiring customers. The platform features full lifecycle management and analytics, an AI-powered natural language engine and industry-leading commerce, trust and security features.
Before you create and launch a chatbot, the first step is to determine why you want to use it in the first place. For instance, do you want to attract new customers, improve engagement with current customers, improve customer service levels? All of the above? Don’t start building a bot until you know what purpose(s) it will serve.
The next step is to decide whether you want to build and maintain the chatbot in-house, or partner with a developer.
Just like an e-commerce web site, a chatbot is built on two main components: the user interface on the front end, and the data collection and analysis on the back end. The user interface needs to be simple to use and provide a compelling experience that keeps the user engaged. That’s only possible if the artificial intelligence technology on the back end enables the chatbot to not just provide immediate answers to a user’s question today, but also analyze data on all interactions over time. This enables the chatbot to “learn” to anticipate the information a user will want or need and offer it up on a more proactive basis.
Keep in mind that enabling conversational commerce is just as much as marketing challenge as a technical one. Building loyalty with customers is not as simple as rolling out a new chatbot. You must earn their trust, and that takes more work than convincing a customer to continue interacting with your chatbot after the novelty factor wears off. This requires time and constant effort, but the payoff will be well worth it. The chatbot gives you greater power to acquire customers, engage them with compelling content that’s relevant to them, and monetize those engagements.
 Average Email Campaign Stats of MailChimp Customers by Industry, MailChimp. February 1, 2017