The Return of the Chatbots: Experiment, Engage, and Be Genuine

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Chatbots are technically not a new invention. Simple forms of intelligent digital assistants have been around for some time now. Remember the Microsoft Office Assistant ‘Clippy’? He was first introduced in November 1996 to help Microsoft users when using their software products. And then there was ‘SmarterChild’ in the 2000’s, an intelligent bot that was nestled into messaging services like AIM and MSN. However, since the introduction of Apple’s Siri in 2011, digital assistants have been rising in prominence. In April 2016, digital assistants grabbed the headlines again with the launch of Facebook Messenger chatbots.

So, why is it so important? First of all, chatbots in existing messaging apps are particularly well suited for consumers to access transactions and services and make a faster and easier alternative than installing, opening up, and navigating through a brand’s app or mobile website. Additionally, chatbots offer consumers a channel to receive engaging content in a timely manner independent of time zones and time of day or night, shop online efficiently without having to click around, and communicate with customer service representatives conveniently.

For marketers, the particular interest in chatbots today is for the potential they offer brands and businesses within social messaging apps. Social messaging apps are increasingly dominating time spent on mobile devices, attracting more active users than social networks. Given the rising popularity of social messaging apps, it is more essential than ever that brands and businesses tap into this unique opportunity to enter the private, personal and ad-free space of social messaging apps, to have a direct and genuine dialogue with consumers.

Taco Bell, for example, has created a bot for the messaging app Slack that intuitively responds to customer requests, allowing users to select their meal, pay and have it delivered without having to leave the interface.

Chatbots can also be used by brands and businesses to gather rich personal data to offer more personalized experiences. Through conversations with users, brands can develop a deeper, more personalized understanding of their consumers. This valuable information can be used to retarget later on, promoting relevant products or offerings. This ensures that the consumers are receiving the right messages at the right time.

Beauty retailer Sephora is an example of one brand who has done a good job of using data derived from chatbots to create a more frictionless consumer experience. The beauty brand uses quizzes to develop deeper understandings of customers, as well as facial recognitions to provide a more tailored experience.

While brands and their agencies are developing chatbots, it is essential that they keep the consumers’ needs in their focus. Perhaps most importantly, brands must work with their agencies to create chatbots that engage with consumers in a genuine and authentic manner. At the end of the day, it’s all about providing real consumer value.

So, before you deploy a vendor or your traditional agency to catch the bots trend, ask yourself a few questions. Do you have the technical resource to build a chatbot, i.e. develop the script, the API links, the database connections, and the payment getaway? Do you have the consumer service and CRM resource to manage the chatbot dialogue? Have you decided the logic, rules of engagement, and the tone of voice in messaging from a branding and CRM perspective? If so, have you set up your content, consumer and product database to deliver the right messages? Last but not least, do you have the policies and procedures in place to manage the privacy and security issues?

At Fetch, we’re already delivering a chatbot project for our own agency to direct website visitors to the correct location and contact. Surely, the industry (us included) has a lot of work to do before developing a chatbot that truly engages with consumers in a human-like adaptable, intelligent, quick and genuine way. But in the meantime, why not experiment and have fun with it?

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