What the Bot Craze Means for Marketers

[24]7.ai | May 02, 2016

As a marketer, I’ve been watching coverage of the chatbot craze with great interest. Driven by the industry heavyweights, it seems that virtually every small company is jumping on the bandwagon. I’ve been fascinated by the coverage for a couple of reasons: 1) because the technology behind bots has been around for years and some companies are doing a great job marketing it, and 2) because bots (if done right) have great potential to help us do our jobs as marketers.

In a recent article on LinkedIn, [24]7.ai CEO PV Kannan examined this craze and offered solid advice for businesses considering the jump into bot technology. The same advice applies to marketers specifically, and I would argue it’s even more critical that they get it right the first time.

We all know that if a customer has a bad experience on a digital channel, they resort to picking up the phone, and it takes a long time to get them comfortable with using that digital channel again. For marketers, who already have limited budgets, this means that costs go up and consumer satisfaction goes down. Consumers want to be able to resolve challenges digitally, ideally within a single channel. Bots are an excellent way to deliver self-service to customers –a “DIY” approach to customer service that is only growing in the age of Uber and Amazon.

Truly intelligent chatbots with natural language understanding and easy, contextual escalation to human assistance can deliver the effortless experience consumers crave. But if a consumer’s experience with a bot stops halfway, or makes them start over as their inquiry becomes too complex, bots will just be yet another fad. Much like apps, a bot’s success will depend on usage, engagement and usefulness.

The example I like to use is booking a trip from Boston to Chicago. You start your journey on an airline’s website, but hit a roadblock, and engage with the airline’s chatbot. Rather than just saying “can I help you?” an intelligent bot would say “Scott, I noticed you are trying to book a trip to Chicago, but your usual flight time is not available – is that why you messaged me?” It’s a powerful, compelling moment for the consumer – the kind we (as consumers) want more of.

Bots have the potential to offer compelling, personalized, on-brand experiences. But in order to do that, they must be able to predict customer intent. There’s a stunning amount of data available to businesses that can help them make real-time decisions about how to best engage a customer based on a number of things, such as the channels they’ve used, the nature of their query, the channels they prefer and the intent behind their action. If businesses can leverage this data, they can delight consumers in the moments that matter – such as booking a flight or paying a bill – and turn what is often-times a painful scenario into an easy one.

Smart companies, and smart marketers, are looking at bots as an intriguing piece of an intent-driven engagement strategy that cuts across channels. But it’s only one piece. It’s essential that the front-end -- where consumers first interact with a brand, must be integrated with a platform that can serve up this predictive data. If done right, marketers have the potential to see huge upside from the new found interest in bots.