Chatbots are the latest thing in voice recognition technology and it is becoming clear that they are now set to take the world of customer service and online interaction by storm. With some initial forays into chatbot software already in place, now is the time for businesses to take note and consider the implications of chatbots for marketing and brand impact.
What is a chatbot?
A chatbot is very simply a way in which users or customers can have interactive communication with a computer system. Using present and future technology, a chatbot will use artificial intelligence rules to make useful responses and ask important questions. Instead of a customer being led through an established set of, perhaps irrelevant, questions, an AI instructed chatbot would be able to create and present questions which are based on previous and personalised information and thus make more sense. A chatbot would be able to respond to direct customer questions and ideally feel its way around more complex issues. All of this would be done in a ‘human’ and interactive manner, aimed to set customers at ease and ensure they feel they have been adequately helped.
How can chatbots facilitate the development of customer and business communications?
Let’s be clear about this: chatbots are currently a long way from replacing person to person interaction but they are starting on the journey in this direction. One of the main attractions of chatbots is that they offer an instant response. Response times to help queries have long been a source of customer dissatisfaction. Employing brand representatives to take direct calls can be expensive and often result in long phone queues. By providing chatbot facilities businesses can provide 24/7 support that will deal with a wide range of regular questions without requiring customers to trawl through the usual FAQ list. A well developed and intuitive chatbot will personalise communications and offer the opportunity for brands to engage in more meaningful interaction with clients which in turn will allow for a level of customer satisfaction that leads to brand loyalty.
The rise of chatbots
Although chatbots are a relatively new innovation, they are proving to be the preferred method, surpassing both email and phone, for millennial and younger shoppers to engage with retailers. Driven perhaps by the demands of a younger society that values above all an instantaneous response, a recent report, ‘The Retailer’s Guide to Chat’ found that 25.8% of 1000 customers preferred to communicate with a chatbot while purchasing goods or services.
The downside of chatbots
No method of customer communication or customer interaction is perfect and while the introduction of chatbots has minimised complaints of long reply delays or phone queues, it hasn’t solved the problem of that all-important quality of communication. It goes without saying that discussing an issue with an artificial intelligence will only go so far to meeting customer requirements. Chatbots can deliver successful customer interaction if the requirements are only for simple question and answer situations, for example food orders, but they are currently less effective when it comes to complex problem-solving discussions. That said, artificial intelligence is growing in efficiency all the time and a program’s ability to ‘learn’ from ongoing interactions will only gain ground when it comes to conversation skills. One thing that chat software is still a long way from achieving is the ability to gauge the level of frustration a customer is feeling either as a result of issues or during a service chat. The ability of chatbot software to ‘learn’ has already presented some issues with inappropriate information gathering. A prime example of this is Microsoft’s Tay which was designed to pick up the language and style of the 18-24 age group’s communication but instead became a target for those who wanted to ‘teach’ it to deliver racial abuse.
Chatbots and social media
One of the forthcoming strengths of chatbots will be their potential for personalisation, particularly through mobile technology, and it is clear that the key way to achieve this will be through social media. When integrated with Facebook for example, chatbots can easily gain a picture of the habits, relationships and preferences of a user. Although the relationship between chatbots and social media still has its flaws, the potential for learning from human interaction is enormous and will offer significant marketing impact for B2C relationships.
The future of chatbots
There can be no doubt that a bot-centred social media structure is the future of social and marketing communication and even customer service. The issues of inappropriate information gathering, under-constructed contextual understanding and information overload need ironing out but with the overwhelming advances in AI, this will soon happen. Ethical questions arise about the impact of chatbots on human understanding once content is managed by computers but for brands and marketing organisations the challenge then will be to move into richer engagement methods such as virtual and augmented reality.