From Rosie on The Jetsons to Samantha in the movie Her, pop culture is packed with of sassy robots who can talk back, not just to answer, but to converse. Who wouldn’t want the consideration and efficiency of a personal assistant without the hassle of having an employee?
While Siri is pretty close to having our very own Rosie, right down to the bad jokes, chatbots are moving way beyond the realm of personal assistants. These days, you’ve probably interacted with way more bots than you think you have.
According to Salesforce, 15% of consumers have engaged with chatbots in the past year, usually for customer service purposes. The same consumers found chatbots to be 35% better at answering questions than applications.
But chatbots aren’t just about answering questions (or telling bad jokes). The potential value of chatbots for digital marketers seems limitless. For example, Guillaume Cabane, former vice president of growth at Segment has recently used chatbots to drive five times more engagements and two times more conversions, as well as using chatbots to help with lead qualification and even lead generation, according to Salesforce.
And he’s not alone; marketers are finding myriad uses for chatbots, whether it’s customer service, engagement, data, or lead generation. Here’s a quick look at why chatbots will be commonplace in the very near future.
Where did all these bots come from in the first place?
According to Venture Beat, “Artificial intelligence, by definition, is intelligence exhibited by machines to display them as rational agents that can perceive their surroundings and make decisions. A rational agent defined by humans would be a computer that can realistically simulate human communication.”
The quest to create a computer that converses naturally with humans has captivated the human imagination for centuries. Talking bronze statues made appearances in the works of ancient Greeks, and the term “robot,” comes from a 100-year-old Czech play about a factory that makes artificial humans. In the 1960s, Alan Turing decided that the ultimate test of a computer’s intelligence was not whether the machine could perform complex tasks, but whether the machine could intelligently participate in a human conversation.
In 1966, the first artificial intelligence system designed to converse with humans, Eliza, matched user prompts to scripted responses. Unfortunately, her 2016 counterpart, Tay, created by Microsoft to mimic the speech pattern of a teenage girl, quickly lapsed into paranoia, began spouting racial slurs, and lasted just 16 hours. Of course, we’ve also seen the rise of incredibly useful A.I., like Cortana and Alexa that act as personal assistants.
Chatbots have captivated our imagination much longer than they’ve existed, or even been called chatbots, but it’s only until recently that they’ve become a real part of our lives and still more recently that they’ve become a part of our marketing strategies.
And why are they suddenly everywhere?
It was the smartphone that launched the chatbot from the realm of possibility into the practice of everyday use. Launched as a personal assistant app in 2010, Siri quickly became a major selling point of the iPhone. Until Siri, developers thought smartphone users wanted individual apps for every aspect of their mobile experience. Turns out, they wanted less apps and more interaction. A voice-controlled assistant that could connect with hundreds of different services and functions to deliver quick, easy, and best of all, voice controlled solutions was what the general public didn’t know they really wanted. And of course, from there, we’ve got Alexa, Cortana, and a whole host of other voice-operated assistants at our beck and call.
But the revolution doesn’t stop with virtual assistants. Chatbots, which are simpler than virtual assistants and rely on keywords for responses, are the customer service option many of us have been waiting for, and chatbot marketing, while still in its infancy, it the wave of the future. Chatbots offer support that never needs sleep, never leaves a customer waiting, and never gets cranky, meaning that artificial intelligence could, oddly enough, lead to more personal relationships with customers.
But they’re hard to build, right?
Actually, not really. While it may seem daunting to build and incorporate chatbot marketing into your long term plans, the technology that drives chatbots is surprisingly not that complicated. Seemingly overnight dozens of chatbot companies offering resources for building and customizing chatbots have popped up. And these bots, besides being good for building relationships with customers, are also great for gathering insights about your audience, such as zip codes, shopping preferences, likes, and dislikes.
Smart brands are getting in on the ground floor
Of course, the chatbot revolution has just begun, but here are some chatbot marketing examples that have caught our eye over the past few years:
Last year, Starbucks introduced a chatbot on its My Barista app in an attempt to simplify the ordering process for its users and reduce wait times at its stores. The result allows users to place voice or message orders and even allows for multiple and very specific orders (a venti half caf soy mocha, perhaps). The chatbot also allows for ease of future ordering, since it can remember ordering history as a source for suggesting future orders.
In 2016, Aeromexico hoped to make flying a little bit easier by introducing the first airline chatbot, Aerobot, in the Americas. Available in both Spanish and English, air travelers can use Aerobot to search flight schedules and pricing, as well as check departure and arrival status. The chatbot also answers frequently asked questions about baggage and travel documents.
And though other airlines have experimented with chatbots, Aeromexico’s has thus far seemed the most natural and easy to use, according to experts like Air Mauritius’s Youvraj Seeam, who told ClickZ that the chatbot was “one of the best that he had encountered.”
Cosmetics retailer Sephora was one of the early adopters of chatbots. In 2016, the brand partnered with messaging app Kik to build a chatbot that offers makeup tutorials, skincare tips, and even product reviews. The company also introduced Sephora Reservation Assistant a chatbot to help customers locate brick and mortar retailers. And finally, the brand also used Facebook Messenger to launch Sephora Color Match, which enables a chatbot to use a color from an image to find specific beauty products.
According to Martech Today, the company saw an 11% increase in bookings through the Sephora Reservation Assistant and reported an additional boost in sales from customers who spent an average of $50 in-store after using the chatbot to reserve services.
In 2017, National Geographic used a Facebook Messenger chatbot to promote their show, Genius, in a pretty genius way. Since the show tackled the professional and personal life of Albert Einstein, National Geographic created a chatbot that allowed Messenger users to “chat” with “Einstein” about all manner of subjects, from theoretical physics to his love life. Part of the fun was throwing nonsensical questions at the bot in order to receive sometimes silly, and sometimes surprisingly profound answers. The chatbot got audiences both hyped about the show and excited to engage with National Geographic on Messenger.
Taco Bell is one of many fast-food chains making the most of chatbots, but their attempt wins points for staying consistent with the brand’s witty, irreverent voice. A couple years back, Taco Bell partnered with messaging app Slack to introduce its first chatbot-powered ordering system, which allowed users to add and remove ingredients, ask for prices, review, orders, and checkout, while the bot kept conversation light, casual, and cute.
Of course, Taco Bell wasn’t the first brand to get cute with its ordering (remember when Domino’s promoted its brand by encouraging fans to order pizza via emoji?), but they offered a unique experience that was easy to use and felt very on-brand.
What does the future look like for chatbots?
In the past, most of our attention has been devoted to engaging with audience across screens via taps, clicks, likes, and shares. However, chatbots are moving or metrics for engagement, and our data, away from the screen by turning attention to conversation.
But let’s be honest: still in their infancy, chatbots are clunky. Conversations with Siri and Alexa still feel a bit awkward because we’re still hyper aware of the fact that we’re talking out loud to a robot. And part of the charm of chatbots like National Geographic’s Einstein bot was that the conversations were so obviously artificial. And while Sephora’s chatbots are incredibly useful at driving customers to its stores, customers would still like to speak with a human being once they get there.
The future of chatbots lies in the ease of conversation, and according to Chatbots Magazine, that conversation is going to come from having experienced storytellers lead the charge in humanizing chatbot conversation: “The challenge of creating a great chat bot experience remains a storyteller’s domain. There will always be a market for writers who can jump from genre to genre. The next great written genre is interactive. It looks and feels like a conversation.”
Still in their infancy, chatbots may seem like a novelty, but their potential for solving customer service and marketing problems is huge. The time to start experimenting is now.