Seeing Beyond the “Chatbot” Buzz
From the user’s perspective, chatbots make sense in two scenarios: when they provide utility and/or when they provide entertainment. To leverage them successfully, marketers must take the entire user experience in consideration, focusing both on what consumers expect and the ways they engage.
Consumers already anticipate specific channels for certain brand interactions — like, for example, taking to Twitter for quick response customer service. Though they’ve grown to trust Twitter for this interaction, it’s important to keep in mind that this wasn’t always the case — it took years of driving consumers to the platform and providing quality support to change minds. To pivot consumer behavior toward conversational technologies will require similar levels of dedication from brands, along with a broader shift in culture (read: it’ll take time).
By definition, conversational technologies tread a unique line between human and machine. The jury is still out on whether people care which one they’re talking to, but the blurry middle ground means certain transactions may feel less trustworthy. Given the existing technology, booking airline tickets and hotel rooms through Facebook Messenger doesn’t yet feel concrete or trustworthy enough. But as consumers use more chatbots and see positive results, trust will increase (and usage will follow).
We get a strange sense of self-awareness when we’re talking to a robot, and this means it’s easy for a chatbot to seem gimmicky. But, since much of a chatbot’s success depends on the quality of its messaging, overcoming this depends on the advancement of other technologies (i.e., artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc.). Additionally, because of the wide variety of server offerings, users don’t see a consistent level of quality from chatbots — one might be a skilled conversationalist, while another might feel too robotic to instill trust. This gap provides a fragmented user experience that will decrease with time as the technology improves across the board.
More and more services are offering high levels of customization, so personalization of chatbots is key. A user should never have to suggest something twice and a chatbot should anticipate the user’s needs whenever necessary. Personalization can help instill trust, and is especially important in specific use cases (such as customer service issues).
Voice technology continues to improve — and take the world by storm. Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, and others have already sold over 20 million devices (a number expected to double in less than a year), paving the way for voice technology integration. Utilizing this technology caters to existing consumer tendencies, making it easy and intuitive for users to participate. Billions of users already access voice assistants like Siri and this number is guaranteed to rise as more options flood the marketplace.
Chatbots can do more than provide a service or utility — they can also be fun! Amazon’s Alexa proves the effectiveness of entertainment tactics, as its top apps often include games like Jeopardy and “sound apps” that play everything from dog barks to white noise. The entertainment industry itself has also seen success with chatbots — the technology has been utilized by musicians (i.e., Maroon 5 and Jason Derulo) and media channels (i.e., Food Network and MTV News) alike.
Facebook Messenger is one of the industry go-tos, but it’s important to remember that the landscape of conversational technologies goes much further. This is especially true in a business context — other platforms worth leveraging include Slack, Workplace by Facebook, Microsoft’s O365 (including Teams, Groups, Skype for Business), and Salesforce, to name a few. Chatbots have serious potential to thrive in the enterprise and B2B arenas.
- Focus on Customer Experience: Lean into user interaction best practices when scripting your bot’s decision tree. Customers expect a welcoming, instant experience so focusing on custom welcome messages and a thoughtful “menu” of your key areas is a great place to start.
- Test & Learn: For chatbots, a test & learn philosophy applies to platforms as well as content. Does your audience feel more comfortable interacting via Facebook Messenger than a module on your site? Do they expect entertainment on one network and customer service on another?
- Speak Simply: While it may seem more direct to push a user toward a menu, it’s important not to underestimate the quality of chatbot Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU). Test & learn open responses like “How can we help?” to engage with users in a more “human” way.
In 2018, conversational technologies will continue to advance. Be on the lookout for:
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