Chatbot Experimentation & Adoption Are On The Rise
Do you remember the 1970’s-era Memorex commercial that asked, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” We may all soon be asking a similar question of the real-time, online chats we have with companies and brands: “Is this a human or a computer?”
The idea of using computer-generated programs that use artificial intelligence (AI) to start and continue consumers in conversations online — called chatbots for short – popped up on numerous lists as a trend to watch in 2018. I wouldn’t label chatbots as a trend but instead describe it as an emerging technological approach to communication that is gaining steam and poised to significantly affect how brands and companies interact with their customers online over the long-term. In fact, chatbots are becoming pervasive enough that consumers are beginning to wonder if they are chatting with a human or a bot; the interactions with a bot can be that realistic.
While the debate about the effectiveness about chatbots – and occasionally the ethics of using chatbots – continues, big companies, tech-oriented start-ups, and others with adventurous spirits are testing and refining the technology and using it to scale their ability to deliver seamless, quality online customer service.
Chatbots function in one of two ways: either to provide content consumers want, such as news alerts, or to complete a desired action.
Understanding the nuts and bolts of how a chatbot functions isn’t nearly as interesting as exploring how the technology can be used as an effective marketing tactic. However, the standard caveat for marketing tactics applies: be sure you have defined a chatbot’s purpose and the role it plays in an overall marketing plan before rushing to execute.
Entrepreneur Magazine recently published an article that suggests several ways you can use chatbots for marketing and sales. It’s a fairly heady read, so I’ve boiled it down to what I consider its most important points and opportunities for small- to medium-sized businesses.
- Deeper consumer engagement – A chatbot can learn through its consumer interactions to create a more meaningful relationship with the consumer by providing relevant information specific to your product or service.
- Reach a wider audience – Chatbots integrate well with social media messaging platforms, which can open the door to new audiences your brand would not typically reach through other efforts.
- Send personalized, relevant information – Because a chatbot can capture and analyze user data, it can sort and send specific communications to specific consumers, thus avoiding a blanket bombardment of emails to your entire consumer base.
Coding Not Required
If you want to test the waters with a chatbot, you can do so without a lot of time or expense, and coding experience isn’t required. Several platforms create chatbots that integrate with messaging platforms quickly, fairly easily and with little-to-moderate expense. One platform gaining a lot of attention – and new users – is MobileMonkey, which facilitates creating an AI chatbot on Facebook through which you can answer customer service questions or integrate with Facebook’s e-commerce tools. MobileMonkey’s user interface is simple, which makes it a great choice for entrepreneurs or small- to medium-sized businesses; however, its technology is described as powerful enough for enterprise organizations, too.
A top choice for conversational chatbots is MEOKAY, which allows users of any experience level to create conversational scenarios to effectively interact with consumers rather effortlessly via Facebook Messenger. Think of using this platform as a massive “if-this-then-that” (IFTT) database for customer service functions online.
What if you want a chatbot for use outside of the Facebook environment? Consider Flow XO with which you can create chatbots for use in various environments – including web – and with the flexibility to create a human/automated hybrid chatbot.
While some experts contend that chatbots are the next logical evolution of online consumer engagement that began with websites and moved to mobile applications, the jury is still out. My suggestion is this: if your business’s success relies heavily on effective consumer engagement and delivering an exceptional experience, ramp up quickly and consider at least testing a chatbot sooner than later. You will have the opportunity to test, improve and launch your chatbot on your own timeline. You’ll then be ready – and perhaps ahead of your competitors – when your consumers begin to expect and desire the support a chatbot provides.