It’s probably time we just acknowledge that apps aren’t the answer to our lead gen woes, since studies show that the majority of Americans download zero apps per month. That’s not to say that they aren’t spending 57% of their time online in mobile apps, it just means that audiences are spending all that time in a few apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or one of the dozens other apps that have revolutionized messaging. But if audiences are keeping to themselves in private messaging apps, does that mean those customers are lost to marketers? That’s where chatbot lead generation comes into play.
It seems like the word chatbot is everywhere these days, but just to refresh, the term chatbot refers to anything artificial intelligence (AI) designed to communicate with humans in a way that mimics human conversation. Siri is chatbot, sure, but so are most of those little windows we click that say, “What can I help you with today?”
Messaging is more popular than ever before
In the dinosaur days of smartphones and social media, the fact that you could send a private message on Facebook or Twitter was kind of a fun bonus for sites that we were primarily using for other purposes. We had text, email, and plain old phone calls, so what did we need additional message options for?
Little did we know, we actually needed them a lot. In 2009, Jan Koum created WhatsApp, and a messaging revolution began. It started as an easy way to message your phone’s entire address book at once, but quickly took off as a way for friends to privately message each other. By 2014, the app boasted 450 million users with an additional million joining each day. Mobile messaging was often expensive and Skype was hard to use, so unintentionally at first, WhatsApp gave people around the world a way to catch up. Facebook rushed to follow suit, launching its own messaging app, Messenger in 2015.
Messenger app conversations were different than publicly posting on social media, since they were private, and they were better than texting, since users could include images and gifs (options for which weren’t readily available on smartphones at the time). Now it’s safe to say that we’ve moved into the golden age of messaging apps, since, at last count, they were boasting nearly 5 billion worldwide users.
But what does that mean for brands?
It may seem like if users are looking to have private conversations on messaging apps, brands might as well just butt out. But that’s really not the case. Many brands have found ingenious ways to reach out to customers via messaging apps to provide useful services in a fun way.
Of course, it’s not really scalable to have a bunch of customer service reps hunched over keyboards pecking out witty rapport with customers twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Enter chatbots, which allow brands to have thousands of conversations at once, not to mention providing valuable customer insights.
For example, when cosmetics retailer Sephora was looking for new ways to reach its customer base, the brand partnered with messaging app Kik to create a chatbot that offered customers makeup and skincare tips, tutorials, and product reviews. Sephora then introduced a second chatbot to help customers set up in-store appointments and partnered with Facebook Messenger to use AI for visual search with Sephora Color Match, which uses colors from user-uploaded images for product recommendations.
All that chatting paid off. According to Martech Today, customers who used the chatbot spent $50 more than customers who didn’t, and the brand saw an 11% increase in bookings through the chatbot.
Chatbots can make a huge difference for lead gen
Imagine a customer approaches a sales associate with a question about store hours followed by an inquiry about whether or not the store has a particular product in stock. Ideally, the sales associate answers these questions politely and helps the customer to complete their purchase.
Now imagine that sales associates could answer questions from millions of customers at once, store the data around those questions, remember the customer’s product preferences, suggest related products they might also enjoy, and then compile information about the most common types of questions customers approached with so that the brand might better prepare future marketing and sales strategies.
That’s the power of chatbots. They have the ability to not just answer questions, but to use data around the questions to move leads through the purchase funnel by creating scalable, personalized one-to-one recommendations.
Where should you be using chatbots
If you’re thinking of diving into the world of AI chatbots, Facebook Messenger is the best place to start. At over one billion users and climbing, Facebook is really the one messaging app where savvy marketers need to be, lest they miss out on important conversations with highly qualified leads. And the “Click to Message” feature of the Facebook app is your entry point for connecting with those leads.
There are a few chatbot builders that can make designing your Facebook chatbot a bit simpler, according to ClickZ’s Marcela de Vivo, who recommends Chatfuel, Chattypeople, and Botsify for providing easy-to-use instructions that enable non-programmers to create perfectly functional chatbots.
According to the SMSS blog, one of the best parts of utilizing Click to Message is the ability to ask leads qualifying questions before the chat process even begins and throughout the entirety of the conversation. And after identifying qualified leads, AI chatbots provide ample opportunity for nurturing those leads. Offering ebooks, discount codes, or even a free trial are all excellent ways to move leads down the funnel. And finally, take a cue from Sephora and design your chatbot to get customers in the store by making it easy to book appoints with the sales team.
You’ve probably noticed that more and more websites and landing pages are including chatbots, and the move toward chatbots as a website standard makes sense. When customers click a link, they’re probably looking for information, and chatbots provide a deeper dive than text on a webpage.
Recently Fran Conejos, co-founder & CMO of @Landbot_io, was looking to investigate the ways his company’s live chat solution could drive lead gen. However, a bug in the system actually forced its chat feature into fullscreen mode every time a new user entered. Surprisingly, the team quickly found out that forcing users to chat actually led to four times higher user conversion than providing a small chatbot window in the corner of the screen.
While you may not be interested in forcing your customers to chat, the happy accident goes to show that chatbot lead generation works and chatty customers are generally happy customers. If you’re looking to add a chat feature to your website or even create a chatbot-centric landing page, one of the most important elements, according to de Vivo, is a plan.
“The very nature of chatbots is to gain more information over time, so keep that in mind when developing one of your very own,” de Vivo writes. “The insights about your customers can help you with segmented marketing campaigns, recommend products and services, and upsell, to name a few benefits.”
Key questions include zip codes for location-based offers, product preferences, and reviews of past purchases.
From there, make sure to anticipate customer queries, and make sure to keep conversations light. Humans still aren’t crazy about talking to robots, even if they find them 35% more helpful than human customer service associates, and normal, easy conversation is crucial for nurturing leads using AI chatbots.
Does it work?
All signs point to yes. A recent survey conducted by Facebook found that customers are 50% more likely to buy from a brand after chatting, and it didn’t seem to matter whether the person on the other end of the chat was man or machine.
Of course, the technology may not have quite caught up with the enthusiasm for AI chatbots just yet. Who can forget Tay, Microsoft’s experiment meant to test AI chatbot capacity for learning by having a thinking chatbot mimic the speech patterns of a teenage girl? The technology quickly turned on its creators, releasing a series of violent, racist comments in a matter of hours, and forcing Microsoft to take Tay offline.
But most brands aren’t looking to create a fully-human sales rep in their chatbots. Instead, a fairly simple chatbot can provide 24-hour customer service, and use data from that customer service to generate and nurture qualified leads. So if you’re not feeling chatty just yet, you could soon be left behind.