In simple terms, a Chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation (in the form of texts and audio) which we would perceive as being intelligent.
The concept of a machine or system interacting with humans is not something new. In fact, you are probably talking to one already. Each time you call up a customer care number, you are likely to be interacting with an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system. Of course, the level of conversation is pretty simple where the system responds to your simple button presses on your mobile phone, and provides basic information or performs simple tasks.
Sophisticated IVRs can go a step further and recognize your voice inputs. However, the application of a Chatbot is entirely different and much more advanced. It can seamlessly integrate with popular messenger services such as Facebook to provide the information you need in a zap.
Instead of you going through a clumsy website or waiting for the right customer agent to answer your call, getting a response through a Chatbot is almost instant and precise. It is as straightforward as messaging a friend on your Facebook friend’s list who always replies instantly. A Chatbot gives you access to information or does a task for you with least friction possible.
There are two primary types of bots in the market; informational bots and then you have utility bots. However, bots are also used to gain consumer insights, personalizing marketing content, amplify engagement, qualifying leads, and so on.
The frequently asked questions is "are chatbots going to take over the world?"
No, they are just lines of codes or computer programs that automate specific tasks usually by the means of a chat with a user on an interface specifically developed for chatting.
Why are chatbots a rage today? At the onset, a chatbot is used to answer simple questions such as product information, brand information, restaurants, weather forecast, and so on. However, the amazing thing about bots is that they can get a lot smarter. Based on historical conversation data, a bot can learn about a consumer over time. The more it converses with a user, the more it continues to gain knowledge and becomes more effective.
Moreover, consider the fact that there is a mobile device in every pocket or bag, and the likelihood of the user using a popular chat service like Facebook Messenger is quite high. Now, just think about the convenience that these messaging apps offer when a user wants to find answers and solutions no matter where he or she is, any time. All that the person has to do is find the Chatbot of the brand he or she wishes to interact with and just drop a message. An instant response would pop up any time of the day or night. There is no need for filling out extensive forms, go through emails, searching the web, calling the customer care, and so on.
However, there is a word of caution. Messaging bots can go either way. If its algorithm is powerful enough to understand the user and interact cleverly with relevant information then it is destined to provide a delightful experience. On the contrary, if the responses of a Chatbot isn’t multi-layered as human interactions are, then it is bound to fail miserably. Also, the Chatbot shouldn’t become just another medium for a content marketer to push content at a spam-like rate, which they are infamous for doing.
Marketers are always under pressure to create maximum share of voice (SOV) for their brand. The competition for a bigger SOV is always heading north and the audience is heading southwards. In desperation, they create and push as much content as they can in a hope to be the first to get maximum eyeballs. However, they should learn from their past.
There is a reason that Gmail and other email services have a separate tab for promotional content today. Get a little aggressive with your content, and be ready to be blocked, tagged or marked as spam by the myriad of email filters in use today. Your customers do not want to be bombarded with notifications, text messages, and emails every time you think it is appropriate.
This is where the difference comes with a Chatbot. Instead of pushing content, you become accessible to the consumer 24 hours, just a few key presses away. Chatbots help marketers to capture and analyse data, based on which they can then send personalised notifications that are most relevant to a customer. A chatbot also allows you to sustain an active social media presence and your interactions afresh. For example, every time a user lands on your website or social media profile, the Chatbot will automatically pop up and send a welcome notification. This makes you look welcoming, proactive, and eager to interact.
Today, Chatbots have evolved significantly and will continue to do so with advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP), which are the backbone of Chatbot technology.
The success of Chatbot is not a mere projection but a present reality in certain part of the world. Take WeChat that is highly popular in China. Its usefulness as a utility bot is the perfect example. Users there can hail a taxi, order food, video call a friend or book tickets using the app instantly. All of this without ever leaving the messaging app. Its success is such that businesses are considered archaic in China that do not integrate with WeChat.
Similarly, there are numerous examples of brands in the West and elsewhere which have been able to comprehend the full potential of a Chatbot and leveraged on it.
Things you need to build a Chatbot
The first and foremost thing you need to build and implement a Chatbot isn’t a tool or technology. What you need is a strong understanding of the information workflow and a detailed conversational flow chart. There on, you go on to improving it, making frequent tweaks to it, for months to come, until your bot can interact with your customers seamlessly. Bots are more about conversations than technical. The challenge is in understanding the existing interactions that your customers are having with your brand.
Once your basics are in place, you decide the messaging app upon which your bot will be built. Then you need to pick a platform and implement your workflow, which can probably look like an if-then-else statement.
Chatbots can be looked at as the next evolution in marketing automation that automates personalized interaction between a bot and human in the most natural way possible. Of course, the wittier and accurate responses are, the better services it will provide to a customer. As AI and NLP become more powerful than ever, the better bots will be at personalizing responses, understanding complex requests, and deliver superior services.
Today, Chatbots fall somewhere between AI and Marketing Automation. Ultimately, the goal is to elevate services to a level that users find convenient to use and want to use.
(Amit Tiwari is the VP marketing and communications, Havells India)