Mar 2019

Be it Rosie from “Jetsons” or Samantha from “Her”, bots (or robots) have always been portrayed as a thing of the future and that future is now.

Image from iOS (1)-1

Automation is the buzzword in most industries these days. Automating redundant jobs/tasks/activities, saving cost, time, etc, all while making sure the ultimate customer experience is not affected.

The chatbot is one such automation technology that is a hot favourite among product and service firms. Facebook’s Kik and Slack are some of the first few messaging platforms that enabled the integration of chatbots and now almost every other messaging platform facilitates this integration. It’s entirely about how well you leverage or define the core aspects of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a brand or organisation.

Why should brands consider implementing chatbots?

Bots don’t need to sleep, customers don’t need to wait in line to get answers & they don’t get cranky. These would be enough reasons for me.

However, as a brand, if you have felt any or all of the following, I think it’s time you considered placing a chatbot at the major customer touch points, to reap maximum benefits:

  • Not had satisfied customers in a while
  • Your customers feel that your marketing efforts are great but they don’t feel you go the distance when it comes to customer service & engagement
  • Your customer service representatives are well trained and qualified but you still come up short when it comes to satisfaction reviews
  • Your costs are going up but the same is not translating into better sales and a better bottom line

Besides not being human, these chatbots also have the capability of building and maintaining relationships. They are also good at gathering key customer insights and can help sell the right offerings to the right customer at the right time.

The only point of contention would be, “What if the customer starts to miss the human touch?”. With voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, we know we are talking to a robot because it has a voice feature and it most certainly does not sound human. But with chatbots, you can easily program it such that the AI adds the human touch and makes the whole interaction conversational, just like a human would. With a spattering of emojis and a well-designed bot, you can easily get away with the customer not knowing who they are talking to.

What can chatbots help achieve?

Chatbots run on AI and can be implemented at various customer touch points to keep them engaged. Brands can design chatbot to

  • Save time and costs – A bot can answer repetitive questions on items available, order/delivery/refund status, booking details and other such generic queries. Juniper research predicts that by the year 2022, this will be a technology that can save companies billions of dollars (close to $8 billion to be precise) per year.
  • Facilitate branding, marketing & sales – Chatbots can be placed at various customer touchpoints to facilitate easier booking/purchasing options & improve engagement. Let’s take Sephora for example, which had partnered with Kik to come up with not one, but three different bots that basically serve as assistants for locating stores, matching random image colors to available lipstick colors and offering makeup tutorials, skin care tips, product reviews & ratings etc. They did see a sizeable increase in orders both via the assistant and in-store sales.image-101

    Sephora saw an 11% increase in their sales through their reservation assistant and in store as well (Source: MarTech)

  • Automate sales pipelines – All initial sale queries can be dealt with by chatbots and based on the extent of an inquiry the AI can decide whether or not to pass this onto the next step and involve a sales rep. This would work well in the automobile & real estate sectors.

image-102The “WhatsHelp Bot” by mercedes allows you to book a free test drive and then captures the requisite lead information for a follow up later (Source: Blog)

CarLabs, a company founded with the sole goal of automating the process of shopping for a vehicle, uses AI, powered by their in depth understanding of automobiles and the technical expertise required for setting up the NLP (natural language programming) tools for the bot, to make the automotive sales process simpler/easier. They have been able to showcase improved brand engagement & re-engagement, while also driving 21% of users to high value actions like asking for a quote or viewing the inventory.

image-100Increased brand engagement on FB Messenger by 50x, Reduced call center volumes by 50% (Source: Blog)

It’s fairly obvious from the examples above that there are a million aspects that you can incorporate into your bot to customise it to your and your customer’s needs.

Big brands like Sephora, National Geographic, Whole Foods and many more have been among some of the early adopters. They have all seen significant improvements in sales & brand recall, made customer interactions smoother, made their ordering platform simpler, among other things. Overall adoption is still a little slow though.

In conclusion

What brands need to do is to think about this from their sales funnel point of view. Each brand will have a different story and will need to tailor its solution accordingly. I will talk about how this can be done in my next piece

The concept is still pretty new and it may be daunting to think of incorporating it into your existing strategy. However, the technology these bots make use of is actually not that complicated. It would certainly be expensive, and therefore, brands with big budgets would be among the early adopters.

Some industries like, healthcare, banking, financial services etc., which are governed by stricter data privacy policies may take a while to adopt this technology. However, it would be an immediate hit in industries like e-commerce (for example Sephora), Automobile (purchasing a car, example CarLabs), Real Estate (buying a house), F&B (for example Starbucks). Basically there are many places where conversations are longer and include customisations.

Hima Bindu