They call it the “rise of the machines.”

But maybe “they” should be a bit more specific. The proverbial threat of the machines has made great movie plots from The Terminator to The Matrix. But, in our lived reality of the Internet of Things, big data and AI, chatbots are simply a delightful opportunity.

Ironically, this is the opportunity for something far more human: Conversations.

Or, to be more specific, conversations with chatbots.

These aren’t your regular robots, grandma. Here’s how chatbots are making a difference in 2018:

Source: Drift (The 2018 State of Chatbot Report)

Here’s how the behavior starts and filters down:

  • Users interact with interfaces to access business: 60% say they’ve used email and telephone to interact with a business in the past 12 months.
  • From here, users need to access support for what they’ve purchased from a business: 38% have used online chat in the last year
  • Users have a bias for mobile experiences: 30% rely on a business’s mobile app
  • Relying on multiple channels for engagement, 28% of users have actively interacted with a business or brand via social media accounts
  • In 2018, 15% of American adults have used a chatbot to interact with a business in the last 12 months.

Clearly, chatbots have landed and they’re making ripples. The 37% of respondents who say that “getting a quick answer in an emergency” as an expected use certainly hit on a key advantage that chatbots provide: speed, real-time response, automation. 

In fact, 75% of respondents expect an instant response from chatbots, comparable to online chat.

Source: Drift (The 2018 State of Chatbot Report)

And this aligns perfectly with what respondents in both age groups (millennials and boomers) say they view as the potential benefits of chatbots.

Source: Drift (The 2018 State of Chatbot Report)

So how do we compare this to the apparent apprehension many users still have when accessing chatbots? 30% of say that they worry about a chatbot making a mistake when doing more than simply giving out information.

Source: Drift (The 2018 State of Chatbot Report)

The caveat to automation is this: as users, we want all of the perks of automation — the fast response times, answers to questions we can’t be bothered to search up, guided information and possibly even troubleshooting.

But we don’t want it to feel mechanical: We still crave the touch of human-to-human conversation.

Luckily, there’s a “hack” for that.

Chatbots and NLP

Automation helps businesses stay on the lean end, providing agile responses at scale, without having to hire extra bodies or even outsource. The bottom line is that, even with adoption costs, software costs less.

But isn’t there a kind of sacred rule that all worthy marketers like Gary Vee say is being violated when interaction is “automated”?

Well, that was three years ago. And the capability of automation has shifted — not to mention that it was mostly social media automation that got “spammy” (think, Twitter bots and Instagram follow and comment bots).

Chatbots, however, have a real opportunity to close the gap between the benefits of automation and the obvious need we have for human conversations. And that’s because chatbots are programmable, with the ability to harness natural language processing in order to learn from conversations and interactions.

This means that the more businesses rely on the “automation” that chatbots enable, tasking them with customer-facing conversations, the better these chatbots learn the nature of human language queries and grow the skills to respond more naturally.

After all, automation is only worthy if it doesn’t mar the most important aspect: customer experience.

Chatbot Conversations

A more “human” chatbot communication experience. What do these conversations look like and what do they really promise to provide?

A more personal brand experience

With the rise in voice technology, customer-centricity is quickly becoming about conversation-driven experiences. Since 16% of Americans own a smart speaker like Amazon Alexa, Echo and Google Home, this number is not a surprise.

This means that conversations are occurring on multiple platforms and through multiple experiences of “smartware” interfaces such as these digital assistants, chatbot automation and other multi-channel messaging tools.

From visual identity to verbal identity

So far, user experience and interface design has been all about the visual elements of a brand. Everything from a website to an opt-in should bear the business’s unique visual identity — itself an extension of more lofty brand “values.”

With automation through chatbots, however, conversations are going to become the next nexus for brand identity. Think about the way in which Apple Genius Bar employees are trained: they’re only allowed to say certain kinds of sentences, using very specific and targeted phrasing in order to push a specific interaction and messaging.

This is like that — but way more efficient. Verbal identity is a way not only for chatbots to learn about how humans interact but to become a “brand ambassador” in and of themselves, relaying back the brand’s messaging to the customer.

A more effective way to target

So far, businesses have focused on segmenting through various methods like email marketing, A/B testing, web optimization and Facebook ad funnels.

But voice- and conversation-based interaction allows brands and companies to begin to segment users based on the conversations they’re having. This is not only a more intuitive and personalized approach to the customer, but to the business as well.

It’s less about social demographics and more about the individual than ever before. Changes in big data analytics, which allows businesses to get predictive with user actions, means that conversations are the spaces in which to achieve a more natural conversion.

It’s so much easier to know what a customer is looking for if you can just ask, right?

Tips for Early Adopters

To harness the power of automation using chatbots, businesses will need a couple of things in place. These are not only to be considered but actually addressed and outlined.

Identify the business process. Automation is always for workflow. So, with the introduction of chatbots, what is the process or workflow that is being targeted for simplification or streamlining purposes?

Balance it out with human interaction. Even chatbots have learning curves. It’s all about human conversations, right? While gearing up for chatbot automation, businesses should have a small team in place to supplement interactions. In other cases, chatbots may simply not be appropriate and a user training may be the only way to go. Identify these.

Maintain agile customer feedback.Customer feedback analysis is the key to refining the customer experience. While chatbots are doing their thing and learning what they need, customer experience teams should be analyzing customer feedback to spot other issues in automation.

Chatbots should align with brand culture.Whether it’s a concierge service or a support ticket chatbot, there is a certain level of dialoguing going on. In this interaction between a chatbot and a customer, businesses should always keep the language as branded as possible, making sure that the bot “aligns” with business values.

Go all in. Outsource the development of your company’s chatbot (as well as it’s initial testing and tweaking) to developers. It’s simply not worth the extra time trying to set up an out-of-the-box solution and then train it.

As it stands, chatbots can currently provide an excellent first line of defense and interaction. The so-called “face” of the brand/business/company is one that is precise, knowledgeable and, best of all, doesn’t act like a machine.

But, for business owners, things get even more interesting when we start asking what bots can do on the backend, with automation? From being the first line of defense, business owners can take the automation and interaction elements of chatbots to essentially spur conversations meant to convert.

In other words, automation in the context of chatbots could help businesses build robust sales and marketing funnels as well.

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