Much like consumers, marketers aren’t immune to chasing after must-have fads and trends. Chatbots — a shiny object du jour within the industry — make a strong case for this. Thus far, however, interest in chatbots has been driven more by vague notions of transforming customer service than by concrete opportunities for bots to drive business value.
However, those opportunities do exist. Setting aside use cases that focus on customer support, for a moment, there are several specific ways chatbots can be tasked with appealing to new customers and making marketing efforts measurably more effective.
To that end, here are five strategies that brand marketers (and agencies) ought to consider exploring:
1) Make meeting the brand exciting
Chatbots can (with a healthy emphasis on “can”) be just plain fun to interact with. When smartly developed, they have the potential to breathe new life into the customer experience. For example, to help promote the movie Zootopia, Disney released the Officer Judy Hopps bot on Facebook. Those curious could converse with the heroic rabbit and work alongside her to help solve cases. The engagement strategy worked: Users averaged nearly 10 minutes with the bot, many came back for multiple chat sessions, and millions of messages were exchanged.
With chatbots still in their relative infancy, they can offer a memorable initial interaction and serve as a capable brand ambassador. Going a step further, marketers and agencies should investigate how they can use chatbots to increase ad performance and organic reach and deliver marketing automation. For instance, Facebook allows News Feed ads to deliver traffic right to a brand’s chatbot, setting the stage for all kinds of creative implementations that reach new customers.
At the same time, it’s important to expect — and plan for — a degree of snark when developing your chatbot’s personality and responses. Digitally savvy users who gravitate toward chatbots are often motivated to test how “human” a chatbot is by communicating in a snarky or sarcastic manner. Brands that plan for this by crafting witty comebacks and a degree of cheeky fun will ensure greater adoption of the chatbot experience.
2) Develop proactive customer outreach that’s more engaging than email marketing
Too often, automated emails from brands are rightfully discarded as spam, especially when overly familiar phrasing (“20 percent off!”) is included in the subject line. Chatbots can really help revitalize proactive brand communications by acting as an interactive companion and readily available customer assistant. In this role, chatbots deliver value as a personalized tool that’s actually fun to use — almost like a fun friend to go shopping with.
For example, shoe retailer DSW leverages chatbots both to follow up with consumers post-purchase and to offer a “gift concierge” that knowledgeably guides customers, helping them choose gifts by discussing the preferences of the intended recipient. As brands continue to become more proactive with their customer communications as a whole — and especially on social media — chatbots should be a welcome fit for this type of outreach.
3) Use chatbots to provide sensitive support where necessary
The rise of texting-based therapy apps and VR-based treatments for PTSD confirms that, for some, screens provide a safer avenue for opening up than face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication, especially for highly sensitive topics. For businesses that address sensitive topics, chatbots may be a better forum than discussion boards and online communities. They can help customers feel heard and give them personalized guidance on next steps.
4) Offer expertise to grease the entry stages in the marketing funnel
There are obviously many data points customers require to help guide their purchasing options, even before selecting a particular brand or retailer. Chatbots give businesses a way to deliver this information in a comfortable, conversational manner. Customers can have all their questions answered without the pressure or obligation that make some individuals wary of interacting with a live salesperson. When those questions are addressed and a rapport has been established between the customer and the brand, the chatbot can offer to introduce a human brand representative to take the sale the rest of the way.
Chatbots are also a great way for businesses to scale their unique expertise, providing customers with curated recommendations — whether in fashion, food, medicine, or beyond.
5) Deliver dynamic surveys that provide more well-rounded customer insights
Customer surveys have traditionally consisted of a static series of questions. Once again, enter the chatbot. The potential application here is marrying the methodological consistency required of these surveys while actively adapting to customers’ responses, with the goal of deriving deeper and more valuable insights. As practices around chatbot-delivered surveys develop and continue to improve, brands will be better able to customize the collection of this customer data, ultimately serving to improve products, customer service, and customer outreach.
Lastly, be sure not to rely to heavily on chatbots. Just because a new technology is available doesn’t mean that consumers prefer it to a human experience. While chatbots are ideal for entertainment, quick answers, simplifying processes, and providing an outlet for sensitive concerns, it’s important for brands to provide immediate access to a human for support when frustrations arise.
Before investing in chatbot technology, brand marketers and agencies should carefully consider what specific functionality it will introduce, and what practices it will replace. With the right preparation and mindset, chatbots can capably address real business needs — making this a trend that is truly worth adopting.
Cheryl Metzger is a strategy director at Wire Stone, a digital marketing agency part of Accenture Interactive.