Chatbots have received a lot of attention in the ad community in the last few months, thanks in part to Facebook's recent announcement that it would introduce bots into its Messenger app. Though the social network has said the program is still in beta, and not intended for advertising yet, marketers are already lining up to try out Facebook's bot technology. As focus on user experience continues to take priority for marketers, all the chatter around bots has marketing teams wondering how chatbots could potentially reshape customer service and create engagement for brands.
Social media software firm LiveWorld recently released a SaaS platform that allows marketers to manage conversations in real-time on social media and messenger apps via chatbots. A company called BotRevenue is even planning on launching a platform for chatbot owners to promote other chatbots and get referral traffic in return. On the brand side of things, Taco Bell is taking advantage of bot technology via a Slack-based chatbot that takes orders for its restaurants.
Bots have been around for quite a while in places like China where consumers use them to gain information about goods and services, and to connect with brands. LiveWorld, for example, has been involved in chatbot tech for twenty years, beginning with a network called "Talk City" that amassed more than four million users in the first four years after its launch in 1996.
"Chatbot technology has been around for decades – enabling chat conversations, providing information, engaging consumers, and much more," Peter Friedman, founder & CEO of LiveWorld, told Marketing Dive. Chatbot tech, he explains, is however most effective when brands can leverage a human element to drive consumer interaction.
Developing a customer-driven chatbot strategy
Consumers crave human interactions, and experts agree part of why they are turning to messaging apps to reach brands in the first place is to be able to engage with brands on a human level. This means the first things marketers looking to leverage chatbots have to keep in mind is that consumers aren't going to respond well to impersonal, automated responses.
"People may appreciate voicemail trees if and when they provide extraordinary efficiency, relevance, and level of access, but even then, their tolerance is low and patience can quickly wear thin," Friedman said. "We all like human engagement, warmth, and attention, and we know it’s no easy task for a brand to provide it."
As chatbots become more prevalent, three things will be key in propelling their use and effectiveness.
- Social media ubiquity: Widespread usage of messaging apps and platforms drives a demand for enhancement and innovation, and provides a context for consumer engagement and interaction.
- Messaging platform-ecosystem models: Various APIs can be channeled and integrated together to create highly specialized experiences.
- AI technology: Whether used for data collection, search, insight, or commerce, more sophisticated AI delivers better intelligence to foster specialized and personalized conversations.
With that in mind, Friedman said it is critical for marketers using chatbots to determine ways to create that level of human engagement, and to do so carefully and with purpose. "A chatbot that delivers an impersonal, irrelevant, and time-consuming experience will be remembered by each and every consumer for a long time," he warned.
How can marketers do this? The first step is market through the lens of customer experience by creating a "conversational brand" that takes a consumer-centric approach.
"For thousands of years, the foundation of sales and marketing has been people having conversations with each other," Friedman said. "The draw was, and still is, human contact and social interaction. However, with the advent of mass marketing and globalization after World War II, the marketing dynamic began to shift to product-centric broadcast advertising."
At that point marketing became a one-way dialog, Friedman argues. He adds that digital marketing, especially brand designed applications and websites, offers a more fluid experience than TV advertising, but still forces consumers into a pre-determined structure.
"To survive and prosper in the 'Age of Messaging,' brands need to revert to a two-way dialogue," he said. "They need to design experiences that are based on fluid conversations, recognizing customers will drive and control the discussion. The brand must foster, stimulate, guide and participate in discussions with conversational skills, quite a different approach from designing a great graphic or writing a catchy headline."
How chatbots can help B2B and B2C teams
Chatbots also can also serve a purpose across the marketing world. In B2C marketing, the lines between online and in-store are blurring. As consumers seek more personal and conversational experiences with brands throughout their shopping journey, it's crucial for B2C marketers to be ready to engage with consumers at every possible touch point, from desktop to mobile.
For business marketers, given the importance of relationship building and person-to-person engagement in the complex sales process, chatbots can provide a solid outlet for communication. Because the B2B funnel, particularly the final stages of the sales pipeline, are still somewhat constrained by sales teams' capacity to meet and speak with customers, Friedman said messaging will bring new scale to that capability.
"Chatbots will also develop as a qualifying entry point, or funnel, that can enable a more relevant, knowledgeable human touch point whenever necessary," he explained. "This deeper level of engagement will deliver a much richer brand experience for its customers, as it reinforces the level of care, effort and personalization brands are willing to provide for their loyal customers."
Why Facebook Messenger is important to chatbot tech
Messenger has an established base of 900 million users, making it one of the largest messaging ecosystems in the world. And even though other countries and cultures, such as China with WeChat, have adopted messaging apps more quickly than the U.S. market, messaging is growing rapidly. According to Friedman, Facebook is focusing on messaging because it understands the space is such a large and growing market.
"Given its ubiquity, Facebook has the opportunity to establish Messenger as the integration glue across its portfolio of properties: Messenger itself, Facebook, Instagram, Oculus, and more to come," he said.
Moreover, he sees the messaging channel overall only growing in importance thanks to consumer interest, which is why marketers who take advantage of chatbots early may see great rewards.
"Consumers are shifting from comments to conversations. Brands, from posts to conversations. If you don’t have a conversation management strategy that scales, you’re going to be beat by someone who does," Friedman said. "While basic chatbot technology itself isn't much different than it was years ago, its expanded uses, performance context, and output-enhancing technologies still make it a game-changer."