2016 is the year of chatbots?
Even though they have been around for many years, in sites such as Cleverbot, 2016 is the year of the chatbot. There seems to be a bot for everything these days: from customer support and virtual assistant, to contesting parking tickets and even for Catholic prayers. Chatbot startups continue to pop up by the dozen, and, as always, big brands are jumping on the trend as well.
But, why are we so fascinated by something that, a few years ago, seemed too science fiction to be real? And, most importantly, how can brands take advantage of artificial intelligence features to make their customers’ lives much easier?
According to a report published by Business Intelligence, there is a strong movement towards messaging apps, versus social media usage. A recent report published by them highlights that since early 2015, the usage of messaging apps has surpassed the usage of social media apps. Facebook has been ahead of the curve, releasing the Facebook Messenger platform last April, in order for businesses to create their own bots. Brands like KLM, the hotel chain Hyatt and Uber have been using successfully Facebook’s Messenger Bots platform.
Movies have depicted the idea of a virtual assistant in many ways, from the friendlier type (Samantha, from Her), to the calm and collected villain (HAL, from 2001: A Space Odyssey). In reality, in order to get it to interact in an efficient manner with customers, chatbots must be well designed. They are under the command of the user, and that sometimes can bring terrible results. Earlier this year, Microsoft’s Tay bot made headlines when users managed to get it to make racist comments and controversial political statements, which forced the tech giant to shut down the bot just one day after its release.
Most products and services could benefit from creating their own chatbots; however, it’s important to remember that this is not a “Set it and forget it” platform. A lot of work must be done behind the scenes in order to make it run successfully: a practical and easy to follow design, the indexation of all the information a customer may need, give it a personal and service-oriented tone, etc. No matter what, there are some general tips brands must follow for a successful chatbot:
Create it with a purpose: As with every single innovation out there, clearly define why a chatbot could benefit your customer, what is its purpose, instead of blindingly investing time and money to stay in the trend. Think about what you can do for your customer: find information, helping them to solve a problem with your product or, even, providing a listening ear.
Make sure it has a conversational tone: Chatbot users are aware that they’re talking to a machine, but that doesn’t mean it has to sound robotic and soulless. Whether the brand’s tone is formal or casual, keep the conversation friendly and polite. Also, it’s very important to let the user know what is the reach of your chatbot, for example: “I can take your pizza order” or “I can tell you how is the weather on the East Coast”. With this, you can narrow the odds of somebody using the bot for trolling purposes such as asking what is the bot’s favorite Pokemon.
Test it as much as needed: Something that clients hate is when a new, long awaited product fails to meet up with their expectations. People know what to expect when interacting with your chatbot and it they don’t receive it, complaints will rain. It may sound obvious but make sure that your chatbot understands questions and other information it receives from users.
Keep the human touch nearby: As stated before, letting the chatbot play unsupervised can have horrendous consequences for your brand. Some customer service issues may be too complex to be solved by a bot, and may require an even more personalized approach. Keep customer service personnel within the bot’s reach, and create a way for them to intervene if the bot can’t help.
Well made chatbots bring the communications between brands and customers to another level, enhancing the service experience. Not only it is about programming the right interface, or choosing between Facebook Messenger and Kik, it’s crucial to make sure our bot acts as a quick and effective generator of conversation that will increase sales and loyalty.