Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) – they’re terms that sound like they were taken out of a sci-fi book. The acceleration of development in technology has opened up new ways for brands to communicate with customers – ways that we would never have even dreamt of just a couple of years ago.
Marketers, however, are quickly realising that the future is here, and that these types of new technologies are not only available for commercial use but they also hold a vast untapped potential for brands to offer even more personalised and streamlined customer experiences.
The latest one of these developments is the introduction of AI “bots” (or conversational interfaces), which have the potential to enable more intimate and seamless ways for people to connect with brands. But the introduction of these bots is not a surprise. There have been a number of factors that have slowly pushed user engagement models to this point.
“App exhaustion” and messaging that takes all
There is a clear downwards trend in the number of apps downloaded and kept on phones. Today, users are much less willing to go to the trouble of finding, downloading and learning an entirely new app for the sole purpose of interacting with a brand. We call this trend “app exhaustion”.
It is now clear that the majority of mobile users’ time is spent in a small number of apps, with a strong emphasis on messaging (Facebook Messenger, iMessage, WhatsApp, etc.). These apps are positioning themselves as extensible “platforms”, allowing custom third party “bots” to provide functionality (including payment) through a conversational interface.
By releasing bots on these messaging platforms, brands have been able to reach their customers through the apps they’re already using on a daily basis, with a frictionless interface (chat) that they’re comfortable with.
But will AIs ever be able to provide real value for consumers?
As AI evolves and improves, the conversations consumers have with bots will become more personalised and intuitive. The experience will be indistinguishable from conversing with a real person, at a scale (1 to 1) which would be impossible to provide using human support staff.
Moving ahead, customers will be able to develop a more intimate relationship with companies, curated by their own personal brand ambassador, navigating them through the entire customer journey.
These conversational brand interactions will be more convenient and frictionless, using the messaging apps they’re already immersed in.
In addition, discovery will be simplified, as context-appropriate bots can be dynamically suggested based on the contents of the conversation. For example, imagine sending a picture of a pair of new shoes to your friend that you really want, and a Nike bot automatically giving you more information along with an option to purchase? Pretty cool.
In the future, these virtual bot ambassadors have the potential to measurably impact the bottom line for brands. Using a combination of Big Data analytics, AI and mobile payment technologies like Apple Pay, the customer journey can be dynamically optimised to drive e-commerce transactions.
But one thing to keep in mind is that human interaction will never be replaceable. While these new technologies provide great new ways for brands to deliver on an omnichannel promise, it will always have to be in tandem with a great in-store experience. The next generation brands must harmonise physical and virtual experiences, strengthening the loyalty of customers who come into contact with them; building deeper, more consistent engagement between customer and brand, wherever they are located in the world.