Chatbots have received a lot of hype recently, which is well deserved. There are numerous examples that begin to demonstrate the exciting potential of this technology. Already we’ve seen Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton chatbots capable of informing voters on the presidential candidates’ stances on various issues in a creative way. Another personal favorite is National Geographic’s Tina the Tyrannosaurus rex edu-bot, which shares prehistoric facts with kids and hints at a future where chatbots play a meaningful role in the classroom.
Marketers are naturally excited by the arrival of this emerging technology, particularly for the opportunity it presents for conversational commerce (i.e., using messaging to market and sell). And this opportunity is much more affordable: Unlike an app, which can be expensive to develop, maintain, and deploy, chatbots seamlessly integrate with messaging platforms like SMS or Facebook Messenger and can be developed in a few weeks for a minimal investment.
As you consider taking the plunge for the first time, here are three tips to ensure you build a successful chatbot:
1. Identify where interaction can play a meaningful role in your customer experience
Don’t let the buzz around chatbots hypnotize you into thinking you need to invest in them across your organization. Chatbots can serve numerous functions, from m-commerce to customer support to transactional notifications, but the best chatbots are grounded in the customer’s need to interact with your company.
For example, because chatbots have memory, they are a particularly good fit for businesses where customers make frequent, recurring purchases of the same product. Chatbots even remember you across devices, so customers can instantly pick up where they left off, and all past interactions can be referenced. The longer the messaging thread, the more contextual data brands capture, and the easier it becomes for them to learn and anticipate consumers’ needs and desires. When well executed, chatbots can be the most natural preference center.
While some verticals are about quick, recurring purchases, others, like automotive, involve infrequent, large investments. Here a chatbot could help a customer discover which model car would fit their interest/price range and then schedule a test drive. It all depends on your customer, so take a thoughtful approach to determine where and how a chatbot could add value.
2. Make it engaging
A core component of chatbots is that they interact with customers conversationally (in fact, another term for chatbots is conversational UI). This is one reason many, including myself, are bullish on the potential for chatbots as a vehicle for connecting with millennials, given their high activity in messaging services.
Brands invest large sums of money developing specific voices and guidelines for their marketing campaigns and social channels, and the brand voice developed for chatbots should be a natural extension of this. Domino’s successful Facebook Messenger chatbot is a good example. The company named its bot “Dom,” which gives it a personal (yet on-brand!) feel, and programmed it to have lots of personality and a sense of humor. Because these interactions will occur in chat or messaging channels where consumers converse with friends, brands should not be shy about making the experience engaging through emojis, jokes, and more.
3. Start small and get bigger gradually
Because chatbots allow brands to capture and use valuable data, companies are naturally inclined to attempt to build a bot that can obtain as much of this data as possible. This boil-the-ocean approach, however, will typically result in limited data capture because fewer customers will use the bot due to a poor customer experience.
As chatbot technology is still in the early stages, brands looking to jump into the chatbot pool need to keep their focus narrow. An unresponsive bot is frustrating and can negate the purpose of bots: streamlining the customer experience and driving efficiencies. Start simple and gradually build upon your data foundation as the technology matures and your customers grow more comfortable with chatbots.
Brands that embrace chatbots in the next one to two years will enjoy a competitive advantage through stronger connections to their customers, but they need to take a strategic approach as they integrate this technology into the customer experience for the first time.