The Wonders of Chatbots

Ben Hocking, MSc Digital Marketing Management student

Chatbots are one of the key items on the marketer’s utility belt. Riding the coat tails of the increasing popularity of private messaging apps, chatbots are creating a new way to communicate with customers. If used correctly, this technology will allow you to get ahead of the competitors. If used successfully, there are a number of benefits that chatbots can have on your marketing activities:

Chatbots are very strong at this moment in time, due to the targeted engagement with customers that email marketing isn’t able to achieve. This is because Chatbots can be set up on your website or Facebook messenger and don’t get activated until a user is on a relevant page, meaning that there is a good chance any messages from the bot will be relevant and useful. By being in the right place at the right time, chatbots can be more effective than email marketing, with open rates of up to 98%, and a click-through rate up to 12 times higher than through email. In addition to this, the popularity of Chatbots has risen very recently, with Facebook discussions of Chatbots alone increasing by nearly 6x the volume on previous years. This means that you get in on the ground floor of Chatbot usage and use them to gain an edge on slower competition.

You can use chatbots to improve your customer service skills, assisting customers in understanding your services and products, and can provide instant assistance whenever they need it. Not only does this improve your interactions and the customer experience but using chatbots is significantly cheaper than having a dedicated team of staff, especially during out of office hours. The caveat to this is the limited functionality of chatbot technology. While they may be able to change a booking or give information about a product, they won’t be able to deal with that unusual request that a human would be able to resolve immediately. Despite these limitations, the use of chatbots in the first instance with a human assistant on hand for any more complex issues can vastly improve your customer service experience, as well as reducing the demand on human assistants by resolving the majority of issues without the need of human intervention.

The next benefit of using chatbots is how they can improve the customer journey. Through the use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning technology, chatbots can take the whole context of the scenario into account and even provide a personal shopping experience for customers visiting your website, as 83% of online shoppers have reported needing help during and online shopping experience. This can range from helping them find the correct item for their needs, to upselling other items and accessories based on the customers shopping habits. Again, this service isn’t perfect. While some consumers may appreciate this level of support, casual shoppers and those who may not have a specific need may just want to experience uninterrupted browsing, and the presence of an intrusive chatbot trying to upsell every time they open the website may be seen as a nuisance, and even go so far as to drive traffic to competitors with better customer experiences. With this in mind, the use of chatbots, when limited to relevant and specific situations, can be an ideal way of improving the customer experience, but care must be taken into the aggressiveness in which they are used within your marketing communications.

Why else use chatbots? Nearly two thirds of smartphone users wont download any new apps in a month. Because of this, rather than expending the time and resources in developing a companion app for your website, you can use chatbots to tap into apps your consumers are already using, such as Facebook messenger, allowing you to take your services to places already inhabited by your target audience. Not only this, all of the data collected by chatbots can be pumped into your analytics, allowing you to gain even more insight into the consumer behaviour and purchasing patterns. You can even take this one step further, using chatbots to collect feedback both pre and post-purchase, collecting opinions with a much higher success rate than through more traditional methods such as email marketing. If we look at the potential success of chatbots used effectively, a simple glance at amazon can show how effective they can be, with the sale of echo units numbering over 30 million units worldwide. While primarily marketed as an assistant, these are in essence chatbots that allow you to seamlessly purchase from amazon without even needing to pick up your phone or turn on your laptop. The potential of chatbots to grow and change is huge, as even now they can do everything from appealing parking tickets to collecting symptoms of illnesses to reduce strain on healthcare call centres, meaning that the scope for innovation with chatbots is not limited to marketing purposes and can be used in any number of ways to assist your business with the right setup.

Having looked at both the benefits and drawbacks of using chatbots in your digital marketing communications, it is clear that despite the potential for issues to arise if the technology is used incorrectly, the ability to reach such a broad audience with automated personal engagement and provide a high level of service and advertisement with very little expenditure is clearly an essential tool in the arsenal of the digital marketer.