Marketing

Can chatbots be true brand advocates?

Fi Bendall /

Plenty of big companies are turning to chatbots for customer service, but is it providing the best experience possible for customers? Can chatbots truly delight customers and advocate for your brand?

Chatbots are customer service tools powered by artificial intelligence software, mainly designed at this stage to help customers with basic service queries. Bots are making their way especially into messaging apps like Slack, Facebook, HipChat and Skype, and so are an important evolutionary step in mobile marketing. You’ve probably already interacted with a chatbot, with varying degrees of satisfaction or frustration.

We’re very much at the start of story with chatbots and the results have been mixed so far. Bots can handle simple queries but still flounder with more complex and involved tasks. For every great example of a well-executed bot strategy, there are probably 10 bad ones.

Fashion brands like Estee Lauder have been very keen on pursuing this engagement strategy, using Facebook Messenger bots such as a “conversational lipstick advisor” that takes data from ModiFace’s patented facial recognition and augmented reality (AR) product simulation technology to advise on the best colour lipstick for you from the brand’s range. It’s doing the same with its foundation range too, which for anyone who has ever searched for the perfect foundation shade knows, will be quite a feat if they can pull it off!

That’s definitely a sign of where chatbots will be heading, as they are incorporated into other technologies like AR and virtual reality (VR), and become more intelligent as the data that feeds them becomes richer.

Forrester released a report last year that outlined the state of play with chatbots, especially in regard to customer-facing applications:

 

“Chatbots have the potential to improve information distribution, customer care, commerce, and marketing over time by making them more natural. However, multi-featured chatbots that surpass apps in convenience will be complex and depend heavily on artificial intelligence to interpret consumer intent and reduce consumer burden. We aren’t there yet. Moreover, chatbots will never be a standalone solution to business challenges. They will be a part of a company’s larger portfolio of digital touchpoints.”

 

In some ways it’s not dissimilar to what we’ve seen happen in the travel industry, where it was once thought travel agents would disappear because of the ease and convenience of online booking sites. Instead, travel agents refocused on giving really great customer service and a human touch that online booking sites couldn’t replicate. That’s why a lot of people will still use a travel agent, especially when it comes to planning and booking complicated itineraries that might involve special needs.

It’s worthwhile drilling down into your customer service interactions in order to understand where and when chatbots might be helpful and in what circumstances you’ll need to employ human interaction to get the best result. You also need to be focusing on making sure your customer service people are trained to value-add in situations that bots are still poorly equipped to handle. Bots can do a lot of the grunt work at the lower end of the value chain, but you need your people to act as true brand advocates higher up the chain.

The simple fact is some people still just feel more comfortable dealing with a person rather than a bot, which is really important in regard to the customer demographic you are dealing with too. Millennials might not think twice about engaging with a bot whereas Baby Boomers could perceive dealing with a bot as an inferior experience.  

Another factor is that chatbots are just not there yet when it comes to really identify a customer’s situation and needs, which means the potential to up-sell is diminished. Chatbots are still fairly one-dimensional and basic, without the sort of analytical capacity that a really clued in salesperson or customer service agent might possess.

As is stands now, chatbots provide a valuable complementary function in brand marketing but they need to be used in conjunction with human agents who have been profiled as brand advocates. 

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Fi Bendall

Fi Bendall is chief executive of The Female Social Network and a Westpac/AFR 2015 100 Women of Influence, who was described by CEO Magazine as 'The CEO's Secret Weapon'. An expert and pioneer in digital strategy, she has over 23 years’ experience in the digital and tech sectors.

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