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Regan Hall: The march of the chatbots grows, but should marketers care?

  • Voices
  • November 30, 2017
  • Regan Hall
Regan Hall: The march of the chatbots grows, but should marketers care?

With research showing that millennials choose messaging apps as their first choice for communication with friends and family, this is a space that has huge potential for brands to play in.

Facebook Messenger alone has over 100,000 chatbots and on top of that there all the other messaging platforms and websites that have embraced this tech, but the challenge for the average brand or marketing manager is figuring out how to become part of the conversation in a valuable way.

Beyond the initial fad factor, the fundamental premise behind a chatbot is that it can provide information faster and more accurately than a human in a contact centre or by searching a database.  While the accuracy can be a bit hit and miss at this early stage, the technology is (unsurprisingly) developing very quickly, with one aim being to get to the point where you don’t know if you are chatting with a human or a bot. Sounds scary huh?

So, what are the practical use cases for marketers?

Cosmetics giant Sephora launched their chatbot in mid-2016 on messaging platform Kik, with recent reports claiming that it has had a positive impact on sales. The bot can provide users with a two-way exchange in a very personalised and meaningful way that isn’t available 24/7 on other social platforms. A user can ask for beauty tips, how to apply certain makeup and even ask the ‘beauty uncomplicator’ to find the perfect product just for her, which takes her on a Q&A journey that ends with tailored product suggestions. From there, she can tap the product she likes to go straight to the e-commerce site to buy.

Consider this journey in contrast to how one might currently search for a beauty product. If you Google ‘buy lip gloss’ you get roughly 3,800,000 results. How helpful is that? Seven or eight years ago it would have been great because we had access to all these options that weren’t available in a physical retail store. Now, it’s too much effort to wade through all the options, let alone decide which one to buy. We want a shopping experience that is personalised, easy to navigate and quick to complete, all done on the screen in our hand. This is all part of working towards a ‘frictionless’ experience for consumers.

Earlier this year Air New Zealand launched Oscar, their friendly customer service bot that lives on their website help page. He’s still in beta mode but is pretty helpful at answering questions that he’s programmed to respond to. You can even give him details of where you want to fly to and he’ll start the booking process.

At the moment, Oscar doesn’t seem to be a whole lot faster than searching for this information manually, but it’s relatively new technology and a work in progress so I’m sure he’ll develop.

As with any marketing initiative, the thinking has to come from the perspective of the customer. Building a bot should be an answer to a business problem, not just a reaction to the latest trend. The key is to understand what a chatbot is capable of so that you can insert it as an option when looking at how to solve a particular problem.

Building a chatbot into Facebook Messenger (or your website) can be fairly straightforward, so the barrier to entry is low. The more complex the response logic becomes, the more the cost will go up. i.e. if you want your bot to be more intuitive and intelligent, this will ramp up the cost.

If you prefer the DIY approach or just want to have a play, there’s a load of bot builder platforms that don’t require any coding knowledge. Just Google “chatbot builder” and you’ll be overwhelmed with options. Perhaps too many in fact. If only there was a chatbot that could help you with that.

Regan Hall is the general manager at independent shopper-marketing agency BTL.

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